WASHINGTON, March 9 (Reuters) - U.S. Senator Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on Wednesday he does not expect an upcoming vote on a $700 million sale of F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan to keep the deal from going ahead.
However, he said there was still discussion of whether U.S. taxpayer funds could be used to finance the purchase.
President Barack Obama’s administration announced on Feb. 12 that it had approved the sale of the Lockheed Martin Corp aircraft as well as radars and other equipment to Pakistan.
It drew immediate criticism from India and concern from some members of Congress.
Republican Senator Rand Paul in late February invoked legislation known as the Arms Export Control Act in the hope of stopping the sale by passing a Resolution of Disapproval, calling Pakistan “an uncertain ally.”
Cardin told reporters he opposed Paul’s resolution and expected it would fail, with the chamber’s Republican and Democratic leaders opposing it. The measure could be taken up by the Senate as soon as Thursday.
Cardin said lawmakers had concerns about Pakistan’s nuclear program, commitment to fighting terrorist organizations and cooperation in the Afghanistan peace process but generally supported the sale.
“It was not controversial that Pakistan needs to modernize its air force force and its counter insurgency and counter-terrorism activities, particularly in the mountainous territority of the border with Afghanistan,” he said.
Congress is currently considering a request to “reprogram” some funds, in other words, use them for a different purpose than allocated in a budget bill, to help finance the deal.
Cardin said he was not yet prepared to make a judgment on whether U.S. taxpayer funds should be used to help Pakistan with the purchase. (Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Andrew Hay)