Friday, July 28, 2006

11th-hour try to block US F-16 sale to Pakistan

11th-hour try to block US F-16 sale to Pakistan
By Jim Wolf

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A handful of U.S. lawmakers have launched an 11th-hour attempt to block the sale of U.S.-made F-16 fighter aircraft to Pakistan but have garnered little immediate support.

Massachusetts Democrat Rep. Ed Markey introduced a bill on Thursday to bar the sale unless President George W. Bush certifies that Pakistan has stopped building a big, newly-reported, plutonium-production reactor.

Markey, co-chair of a bipartisan task force on curbing the spread of nuclear arms, acted just before the end of a 30-day window, during which Congress has statutory power to block the proposed arms sale.

He said the F-16s were capable of delivering nuclear weapons "and if this arms sale goes through, we will only be putting additional fuel on the fire of an Indian-Pakistan nuclear arms race."

Barring a resolution of disapproval in both houses of Congress by this weekend, Bush will have the authority to go ahead with the supply to Pakistan of up to 36 Lockheed Martin Corp. F-16C/D models and related gear worth up to $5.1 billion if all options are exercised.

Congress would still have the power to pass laws to block the sale "up to the point of delivery," which could be years away, said Richard Grimmett, an arms expert at the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.

Israel Klein, a Markey spokesman, said: "We believe there's still an opportunity for Congress to weigh in and block the sale."

New York Democrat Rep. Gary Ackerman, co-chair of a congressional caucus on India, has also introduced legislation to prohibit the F-16 sale. He said in a statement he feared technology leakage to China among other risks.

Ackerman has collected five co-sponsors -- four Democrats and Republican Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado, said Jordan Goldes, an Ackerman spokesman.

A spokesman for Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar said he had not heard of any resolution of disapproval introduced in the Senate.

The White House acknowledged on Monday that the U.S. government had long known of the Pakistani heavy-water reactor project that might produce enough plutonium for 50 bombs a year. It said it was working to dissuade Pakistan from using the plant to expand its nuclear arsenal.