U.S. Seeks Nuclear Deal With India, Jet Sales to Pakistan

The Bush administration's nuclear accord with India seems on track to easy passage in Congress, as the White House also proceeds with plans to equip Pakistan with F-16 fighter jets.

Nevertheless, the State Department on Friday noted that the India legislation still must be approved by the Senate and House after being passed by key committees. And spokesman Adam Ereli said "We will continue to work with Congress... to address remaining issues in the legislation."

He declined to identify them, but one is believed to involve negotations between India and the International Atomic Energy Agency on nuclear safeguards that Congress would have to consider.

The Bush administration denied Thursday that the aircraft sale to Pakistan was designed to help balance the nuclear deal with its neighbor and longtime enemy, India.

"We believe in treating each country individually," State Department spokeswoman Julie Reside said. "Each faces defense issues different from the other."

The agreement with India was approved 16-2 on Thursday by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, two days after the House International Relations Committee gave its assent to a similar measure.

The House and Senate still have to act on the unprecedented accord with India, which provides for delivery of U.S. nuclear technology and fuel for projects that New Delhi designates as civilian.

While India would permit international inspection and safeguards at 14 nuclear reactors, its eight military facilities would remain off-limits to inspectors.

Critics say India, already nuclear-armed, would be able to boost its arsenal. Supporters say India is a trusted ally and handles its nuclear technology in a responsible way.

Pakistan, meanwhile, would be permitted to purchase 18 new jet fighters, order up to an additional 18 of the planes, and get 26 used jets in its arsenal refurbished.

In Pakistan, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam said approval of the jet sale was long expected.

"We wanted to buy a higher number of F-16 aircraft, but we reduced the number following the last year's (Oct. 8) earthquake," Aslam told The Associated Press.

Congress was notified officially, but quietly, of the aircraft deal on Wednesday. Within 30 days Congress can try to stop it, but the odds are long against blocking the sale.

Stopping it would require passage of a resolution in both the House and Senate. Even that could be vetoed by President Bush and the sale cleared unless at least two-thirds of the members of both chambers vote to override the veto.

India and Pakistan both have nuclear weapons and have fought three wars over the future of the Kashmir territory. Decades of rivalry between them have tested several U.S. administrations.

As India and Pakistan competed for U.S. favor, they sometimes found administrations tipping in one direction or the other.

Pakistan has strained for years to purchase new U.S. F-16 jets. Its support for the United States in countering terrorism apparently bolstered its case.

"The sale is part of an effort to broaden our strategic partnership with Pakistan and advance our national security and foreign policy interests in South Asia," Reside said. "Pakistan is a long-term partner and major non-NATO ally."

Reside said a dialogue between the two countries had helped reduce tensions and provided greater stability in the area.