A senior US state department official has said the administration understood and “recognised” Congress’ concerns over the proposed sale of eight F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan.
But assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia Nisha Desai Biswal said she was unable to provide an update sought at a congressional hearing on her department’s budget.
The state department recently announced the US will not subsidise the $700 million sale of eight new F-16s, citing the lack of congressional approval of a subsidy.
Pakistan, which can still buy the aircraft but only against full payment, has said it will look elsewhere for combat aircraft it needs for counter-terror operations.
US lawmakers cutting across party lines opposed the deal saying, one, Pakistan needs to do more to counter terrorism and, two, it will use these aircraft across the border against India.
India too opposed the sale and lodged an official protest.
But Biswal downplayed India’s opposition; in fact, she skipped it altogether, saying the US values its relations with both India and Pakistan, and its relations with them are a not “zero sum game”.
“We understand the very serious concerns that have been raised by the Congress and those concerns are right now being taken into consideration,” Biswal said in response to a question.
About the update sought on the sale, she said she doesn’t have one. “But,” she added, “I will say that we recognised the concerns that Congress has raised with us.”
She went on to explain the sale, taking a familiar administration justification: “The F-16 platform is the one we have felt has been used successfully in combating terrorism. That has been the basis on which the administration put forward the notification to provide an additional eight F-16s.”
Matt Salmon, chairman of the House sub-committee holding the hearing and who was among the fiercest opponents of the sale, said, “This (opposition to the deal) was across the aisle. This was not just Republicans or Democrats. This was across the aisle and a lot of concern that was expressed...to its credit the administration I believe is taking those things into account.”