Fighter sale set to resolve dispute with Washington
From FARHAN BOKHARI in Islamabad
THE United States may sell at least nine F-16 fighter aircraft to Indonesia during the next few months in a deal that would also help resolve a dispute between Washington and Pakistan.
The F-16s were among 28 fighter planes that the US sold to Pakistan more than five years ago, but later held back under military and economic sanctions which were imposed in retaliation to Islamabad's covert nuclear programme.
The US last year promised Pakistan that it would sell the fighters to a third country and use the money towards refunding Islamabad the US$658 million (HK$5.08 billion) it paid earlier towards the purchase.
If the deal goes through and Pakistan gets its money refunded, Islamabad is expected to use those payments towards the purchase of new Mirage 2000-5 fighter planes from France.
Washington's prestigious weekly defence publication The Defence News, in a story published this week, reports that the sale may take place during the next two to three months.
'Practically all that stands in the way of the sale being made by the United States on behalf of Pakistan is for the Indonesian Government to settle on financing,' the magazine quotes R. M. Laksamana Sunardi, a staff expert to Indonesia's Minister of Defence and Security, as saying last week in an interview in Jakarta.
'The sale of the F-16s has been approved by the US Government and Congress has been very supportive. We hope there will be no obstacles,' he said.
The Defence News also quotes a Western defence expert in Jakarta who said the terms of finance Indonesia got might dictate how many, not if, Jakarta could buy the planes.
Indonesian officials are considering various financial packages, both commercial loans and financing through their Government.
The Western expert said: 'The United States would like to sell Indonesia's military all 28 of the planes. Depending on how favourable the finance terms they get, it could be nine or 28 or anywhere in between.' However, Mr Sunardi said the Indonesian Government was not considering more than nine. He said Indonesia had bought 11 F-16s four years ago and nine aircraft would fill out the squadron.
'Defence procurement is never a priority here. If we decide to purchase something it is to keep up with technology,' he said.
Foreign Minister Ali Alatas said in a separate interview with The Defence News that President Suharto still had to approve the deal.