Pakistan's prime minister came to the White House Tuesday with a blunt message for President Clinton: my planes or my money.
Clinton and Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto posed for pictures in the Oval Office but ignored questions about Pakistan's payment of $1.4 billion for F-16 fighter jets and associated equipment that have never been delivered."I will say it to the president as I said it to Congress last week: We have honored our contract with America, we want America to honor its contract with us," Bhutto said Monday in a speech.
The fighters are caught up in a dispute dating to a 1990 U.S. law freezing economic aid and military supplies for Pakistan because of U.S. concerns that Pakistan was acquiring atomic weapons - a concern Bhutto says is misplaced.
White House press secretary Mike McCurry said the sanctions "are quite clear: We can't provide them the planes nor can we provide them the money." He said he was not aware of any administration attempt to have Congress lift the sanctions.
However, McCurry said, "We might very well have some steps that could be taken to acknowledge the closer bilateral relations that are developing between the United States and Pakistan."
"Obviously, Pakistanis want the planes or the money," Bhutto reiterated Monday night on CNN's "Larry King Live" show. "We believe Americans who believe in justice and equity think it is only just."
Defense Secretary William Perry has suggested the 1990 law reduces American influence in Pakistan, and Clinton had said in the past that he would be ready to review the policy as part of the U.S. goal of halting the spread of nuclear weapons.
McCurry said Monday that Clinton "first and foremost would like to see the kind of progress" toward curbing the spread of atomic weapons in South Asia that would warrant changing the law.
Pakistan "did not waver in our contract with America," Bhutto said, citing Pakistan's support of the long anti-Soviet struggle in neighboring Afghanistan.