WASHINGTON — A measure to block the $700 million sale of eight US F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan was scuttled in the US Senate on Thursday, though US financing for the deal was on hold.
Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, whose committee has jurisdiction over foreign arms sales, said he will maintain a hold on the US subsidy for the jets over Pakistan’s “duplicity” in the US-backed war against the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican and one-time presidential candidate, mounted an effort to halt the jet sales, citing Pakistan's human rights record and intelligence community’s support of the Afghan Taliban.
“They take our money, take our arms and laugh in our face,” Paul said, adding later: “Pakistan is at best a frenemy — part friend and a lot enemy.”
On Thursday, Paul’s procedural call for a Senate vote to end the sales died when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called a successful vote to table it. The vote was 71-24.
Both Corker, R-Tenn., and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s ranking Democrat, Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, have a hold on the US subsidy, aimed at applying pressure on Pakistan. Corker did not specify what actions Pakistan can take to lift the hold.
“I have issues with Pakistan too,” Corker said. “It’s actually a difference of tactics. I’d like to try to encourage some behavior changes and I think withholding the financial component is a much better way of doing that.”
Corker cast the sale as a choice between publicly embarrassing a nuclear Pakistan, and driving it toward Russian- or French-made jets, versus securing US leverage over the uncertain ally through its reliance on the US for maintenance of the Lockheed-made jets over their 30-year lifespan.
The State Department last month notified Congress of the sale of the eight F-16 Block-52 aircraft and other equipment to Pakistan worth $700 million. The jets were touted as critical to Pakistan’s efforts to deny terrorists a safe haven within its borders.
“These operations are in the national interests of Pakistan, the United States, NATO, and in the interest of the region more broadly,” David McKeeby, a spokesperson for the State Department's Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, said in a statement.