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Pakistan Asks U.S. to Send F-16s or Refund Its Money : Asia: Delivery was halted over concern about nuclear program. Issue certain to come up during Perry’s visit.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

As Defense Secretary William J. Perry began a two-day visit to Pakistan, Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto on Tuesday demanded that the United States deliver F-16s ordered by Pakistan or refund $650 million her country has already paid.

“We would like either the equipment or the money back,” Bhutto told reporters.

Delivery of the state-of-the-art jet fighters has been blocked by the Pressler Amendment, invoked in 1990, which requires a cutoff of U.S. economic aid and arms to Pakistan if the country is suspected of trying to build nuclear weapons.

A former key U.S. ally until the end of the Cold War changed geopolitical realities, Pakistan had ordered 71 F-16s in the late 1980s and paid about $650 million of a total tab of $1.4 billion.

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“We have paid for the F-16s and equipment for our navy, equipment for our army, and we have also sent some of our machinery for repair, which has not been returned,” Bhutto said, speaking to correspondents at her official residence in Islamabad, the capital, after Perry’s arrival. “We think this is all very unfair, and I’m sure the Americans would agree that, despite the legal constraints, it is very unfair because what is ours is ours.”

The dispute over the F-16s, a major irritant in U.S.-Pakistani relations along with the Asian nation’s nuclear program, was certain to come up in talks between Perry and Bhutto, which got under way soon after Bhutto met with journalists. But Perry said he had come to accentuate the positive.

“There are differences between the U.S. and Pakistan. No two nations can agree all the time,” Perry said after flying in from Israel, where he had met with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. “But I’m not here to dwell on what might be wrong in our relationship. I’m here to promote a broader security dialogue that will help us build on what’s right about it.”

Perry, who called Pakistan an “old friend,” intended to discuss greater cooperation in U.N. peacekeeping operations and also confidence-building measures between India and Pakistan, two neighbors that have fought three wars since independence in 1947. He may have trouble convincing his hosts that there is not a new U.S. tilt in favor of India, which he will visit Thursday as the final stop on his weeklong, four-nation tour.

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Before beginning the talks with Perry, Bhutto said the United States was no longer putting pressure on Pakistan to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty or roll back its nuclear program unilaterally. She has always said her country will not subject itself to restrictions that don’t also apply to neighboring India, which detonated a nuclear device in 1974.

Last year, U.S. officials dangled the F-16s as bait in a deal meant to persuade Pakistan to place a verifiable cap on its nuclear program, but the scheme fell through. Bhutto’s government says Pakistan has acquired the capacity to build nuclear bombs but has not built them.

Bhutto called Perry’s visit proof that despite the Pressler Amendment, U.S.-Pakistani relations had broadened “to encompass other matters, particularly investment and peacekeeping cooperation worldwide.”

Under the Pressler Amendment, the United States has also refused to return Pakistani military hardware, including helicopter parts, sent to America for repair. Bhutto said that if Pakistan gets its money back, it will not be spent for military ends but to aid the economy.

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Times special correspondent Jennifer Griffin in Islamabad contributed to this report.


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