Acknowledging Pakistan as a "major non-NATO ally", the Bush Administration has said that the proposed sale of F-16 fighter jets to Islamabad demonstrates the United States' commitment to a "long-term relationship" with that country.
"Pakistan is a major non-NATO ally, which has cooperated closely with us in the global war on terror. This proposed sale demonstrates our commitment to a long-term relationship with Pakistan," White House Spokesman Tony Snow said on Monday.
The proposed package is valued at approximately $5 billion, he said adding that the Bush Administration has been consulting Congress on the sale since last year.
The White House has also confirmed the specifics of the sale, which were sent up to Congress by the Pentagon and the State Department last week.
"The proposed sale includes 18 new F-16 aircraft with an option to purchase another 18 new aircraft, a support package for up to 26 used F-16s, a munitions package, an upgrade package for Pakistan's current fleet of 34 F-16s, and logistical support" the spokesman said.
The break up of the deal that has been provided by the Pentagon will be $3 billion for the new aircrafts, $1.3 billion for the refurbishments and $700 million for an assortment of munitions for the jets.
The Congress, by law, has 30 days to reject the sale but has rarely done so on such major arms deals. Senior Bush Administration officials have been briefing members in the House of Representatives and the Senate and may well be called next week for a formal hearing.
Senior lawmakers in the Congress have welcomed the deal as it benefits the fighter jet manufacturer Lockheed Martin.
The company is expected to use the latest F-16s purchases from Pakistan to keep the assembly lines open in its Fort Worth plant in Texas beyond 2011. Production of the new jets is expected to start in 2009.
"I fully support the sale of F-16s to Pakistan, our strong ally in the war on terror," said Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson, Republican from Texas.
However, the specific terms of the F-16 sale to Pakistan has not been fully finalised. Pakistan will get the new F-16 Block 50/52 C/Ds as also the used F-16 A/Bs.
Although the Bush Administration officially denies any linkage between the F-16s package to Pakistan and the Indo-US civilian nuclear energy agreement, many feel that Washington has tried to assuage the feelings of Islamabad on the nuclear deal with India.
In March 2005, the administration made the decision to sell the F-16s to Pakistan and also offer India the same aircraft as also F-18s. Lockheed Martin has made it known that it is seriously pursuing the tenders in India.
"The big order we're pursuing is in India where they have a stated requirement for 126 aircraft," Lockheed Spokesman Joseph Stout was quoted as saying.