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Dems threaten Pakistan over jet delivery

Democratic presidential hopeful U.S. Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del, holds town hall meeting on Iraq Sunday, March 4, 2007, at Coker College in Hartsville, S.C. (AP Photo/Mary Ann Chastain)

WASHINGTON --Senate Democrats are threatening to withhold delivery of jet fighter planes to Pakistan if it does not intensify its campaign against terrorists. The Bush administration opposed an even tougher move in the House that would condition U.S. military aid to stronger anti-terror efforts. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher told a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee Wednesday the arms package should not be held out as a reward to Pakistan. Boucher said Pakistan is fighting Taliban militia for its own good and that the United States and other nations benefit as a result.

At stake is the long-delayed sale of 18 new jet fighters, an opportunity to buy 18 more and refurbishing 34 used aircraft already in Pakistan's air force arsenal.

The Bush administration objects to the House version of the legislation because it conditions sale of the aircraft to a certification by President Bush that Pakistan's anti-terror efforts were sufficient, Boucher said.

Three Democratic senators -- John Kerry of Massachusetts, Christopher Dodd of Connecticut and Joe Biden of Delaware -- put the threat in the form of a nonbinding resolution.

Its aim is to make clear to Pakistan that U.S. military assistance will be assessed in how hard the South Asian ally cracks down on Taliban forces, which are expected to launch a spring offensive in Afghanistan from havens in Pakistan, and on the al-Qaida terror network.

"We must never forget the importance of going after the terrorists before they strike," Kerry said.

At the House hearing, meanwhile, Chairman Gary Ackerman, D-N.Y., told Boucher that many members of Congress were "puzzled why we are not doing more to put in some backbone" with Pakistan.

"We would like to see a little more muscle behind the policy," Ackerman said.

In the same vein, Rep. David Scott, D-Ga., told Boucher: "I do not believe we are making all the progress we should be making." Scott said the terrorists had havens in Pakistan's border areas and "it doesn't seem we are getting our money's worth" from U.S. assistance to Pakistan.

But Boucher described Pakistan as "a vital partner and ally in our fight against the Taliban and al-Qaida."

The State Department official said the solution was not entirely a military one. Boucher said the Pakistan president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, was pursuing economic and social reform in the border areas where terrorists have havens.

The Bush administration is supporting the effort, but Boucher did not specify how much U.S. assistance will go into it.

"We will continue to work with the government of Pakistan to develop a long-term strategic partnership that is multifaceted and committed to the peace and security" of the region, he said.

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