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Prime Minister Bhutto Demands Jets or Refund of Pakistani Money

By Thomas W. Lippman and R. Jeffrey Smith
The Washington Post

Declaring that she has "no apologies to make" for Pakistan's continuing nuclear weapons development program, a combative Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto Monday demanded that the United States either deliver 28 fighter jets Pakistan has paid for or give the money back.

She said she will tell President Clinton in a meeting Tuesday that Pakistan has "fulfilled its obligations under its Contract With America,' " standing by the United States through the Cold War, working closely with Washington on security issues today and offering a bulwark of moderation and modernism against Islamic extremism. In return, Pakistan wants to be treated like an ally, not punished, she said.

It is unwise as well as unfair, she said in a fiery address at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, for the United States to punish democratic, modernizing Pakistan alone for the nuclear arms competition in South Asia, while archrival India escapes consequences. Bhutto has made these arguments before, but this will be her first opportunity to present them directly to Clinton.

She is unlikely to prevail, however, because current U.S. law prohibits release of the aircraft. A measure known as the Pressler Amendment, after its sponsor, Sen. Larry Pressler, R-S.D., blocks all U.S. economic or military assistance to Pakistan unless the president certifies that Pakistan has abandoned its nuclear weapons program.

White House spokesman Mike McCurry said Monday that "the president can't lift the sanctions" because they were enacted by Congress and Pakistan has not abandoned its nuclear program. "I don't expect there will be any resolution of this issue at the meeting today," he said.

Pakistan paid more than $600 million for 28 F-16 combat jets. The manufacturer, General Dynamics Corp., spent the money long ago.

"They paid for the planes, the planes were produced and we refused to deliver them," said Sen. Hank Brown, R-Colo., who has been sounding out colleagues in a quest for some formula that would end the impasse. "My sense is that it's a terrible mistake to let this sit and fester."