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Lawmakers Chide Bush Over F-16 Sale
July 20, 2006

(AP) Lawmakers accused the Bush administration Thursday of rushing a sale of F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan, saying Congress' role in approving arms sales had been compromised. Opponents acknowledged they could do little stop the $5 billion deal.

Democrats and Republicans lashed out at the State Department for giving them only 30 days to consider the deal; that period runs out next week. The administration, they say, failed to provide a traditional extra 20 days.

The compressed timetable "represents a deliberate and wholly inappropriate maneuver by the State Department to diminish the Congress' lawful oversight of arms sales," said GOP Rep. Henry Hyde of Illinois, chairman of the House International Relations Committee.

The committee's hearing on the jets came with tensions on the rise in South Asia after last week's bombings in Bombay, India, that killed more than 200. India's suspicions of a Pakistan link to the attacks have led India to slow a two-year peace process with its neighbor.

John Hillen, assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, defended the administration's consultation with Congress as "unprecedented."

He told lawmakers that "never before have such extensive arms sales consultations taken place."

But the committee's top Democrat, Rep. Tom Lantos, said the State Department had "cut this committee, and this Congress, out of consideration of U.S. arms sales. This insolence flies in the face of both custom and the intent of the Constitution."

Lantos, D-Calif., said he supported the sale. But he said the administration's "rush to reduce congressional oversight" meant that lawmakers' legitimate worries over proliferation had been glossed over.

Some worry that the sale could compromise sensitive U.S. technology by exposing it to China, which has close military ties with Pakistan. Critics also say the jets reward a country, Pakistan, that provides moral support to terrorist groups fighting India.

The administration says Pakistan, as a valuable ally in the search for terrorists, deserves military support from the United States. The White House told lawmakers last month that it had approved the sale of the 18 new fighter jets to Pakistan.

The sale, which Pakistan long has sought, would include an option to order an additional 18 Lockheed Martin jets and to get 26 used aircraft in its arsenal refurbished.

Lawmakers opposed to the sale said stopping it would be difficult. It would require the passage of a resolution in both the House and Senate before the 30-day review period runs out next week. Bush could veto any resolution and the sale would clear, unless both the House and Senate voted by large margins to override the veto.

The debate coincides with a White House push for congressional endorsement of a nuclear cooperation deal with India. Pakistan has not been offered the same consideration, and some see the F-16 sale as an effort to strike a balance of power in South Asia.

Pakistan and India have fought three wars since their 1947 independence from Britain _ two over Kashmir, a Himalayan state that both claim in its entirety but that is divided between them by a U.N. line of control.

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