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Perry Visit Prompts Revival of Talks with Pakistanis

By Dana Priest
The Washington Post
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan

Defense Secretary William J. Perry and his Pakistani counterpart have agreed to revive regular high-level military discussions abandoned in 1990 when the United States cut off aid and military equipment to its former ally because it was developing nuclear weapons.

The discussions are part of a package of joint exercises, military educational exchanges and extensive talks about peacekeeping operations Washington hopes eventually will coax Pakistan to end its nuclear weapons race with its longtime rival, India.

At a meeting here Tuesday, Pakistani legislators urged U.S. officials to eliminate the congressional ban on sending aid and military equipment to Pakistan if it is believed to be developing a nuclear program, imposed under the 1990 Pressler Amendment. "We are glad you are trying to bypass it," one legislator told the Americans. "It has become a household word translated in Urdu and Sindhi."

Perry, who will announce the agreement Wednesday, told the lawmakers that he does not expect Congress to grant their wish but that "whatever happens, I intend to press on, to make the most as I can of the security relations between the United States and Pakistan. I want to try to make things better."

To the consternation of some members of Congress, both the Bush and Clinton administrations have allowed the sale of munitions and some small parts to Pakistan, reflecting their desire to maintain amiable relations in such a strategic part of the world. It is likely that objections will be raised that the new accord breaches the letter, if not the spirit, of the current law.

Then-CIA Director James Woolsey told the Senate last year that the India-Pakistan arms race posed "perhaps the most probable prospect for future use of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons."

Both countries have refused to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which would effectively require them to dismantle their nuclear programs, and Perry did not push the issue Tuesday in separate meetings with Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and Defense Minister Aftab Shaban Mirani.

Pakistan contends that its "peaceful" nuclear program has been halted, but U.S. officials believe it maintains the capacity to produce nuclear bombs. India exploded a nuclear device in 1974 but denies it manufacturers nuclear weapons.

Pakistani members of Parliament said they were discouraged by the U.S. position toward Washington's onetime main bulwark against Soviet aggression in Central Asia.

Having been the main conduit for U.S. arms to Afghan rebels during their war with the Soviet Union, "naturally there was an expectation that the side that won would benefit," one legislator said. Now there is "not just a feeling of being let down in friendship but of being left high and dry."

Pakistan has gone from being the third-largest recipient of U.S. military aid - receiving close to $250 million a year at the height of the Soviet-Afghan war - to getting nothing today. The U.S. Agency for International Development office here is closing this month, and Pakistan has been warned it could be placed on the State Department's list of countries backing terrorism because of its support for insurgents in Kashmir and militants in the Indian state of Punjab.

Pakistan also fears Washington is tilting toward India, and a similar but potentially broader agreement between Indian and U.S. defense officials is expected to be signed when Perry visits India later this week.

But to the Pakistanis, the boldest slap has been the U.S. refusal to release 38 F-16 fighter planes for which Pakistan has already paid $658 million. Washington held up delivery in 1990 when then-President George Bush found the country in violation of the Pressler Amendment provisions. U.S. defense officials said the revived military panel, known as the U.S.-Pakistan Consultative Group when it was set up in 1984, will try to settle the F-16 matter.