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Pak agrees to joint missile inspection with US

By Lalit K Jha in Washington
September 01, 2009 09:36 IST
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The United States has taken 'very seriously' the reports about illegal modifications made in the American-made Harpoon anti-ship missile by Pakistan, to expand capabilities to strike land targets, a potential threat to India, even as Islamabad has agreed to 'mutual inspections'.

"This is something that we take very seriously. We have raised the issue with the Pakistani government. The (Pakistan) government has responded with an agreement in principle for mutually agreed inspections," said Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs P J Crowley.

In a news report published on August 30, The New York Times, quoting an unnamed American official, said the US has accused Pakistan of illegally modifications in the Harpoon anti-ship missile to expand its capacity to strike land targets, a potential threat to India. Between 1985 and 1988, the Ronald Reagan administration delivered 165 Harpoon missiles to Pakistan.

"In this particular case, we have some concerns. We shared them with the government of Pakistan. The government of Pakistan has been responsive," Crowley said. "We would wait and see if those inspections can address the concerns that we have raised," he said.

The US has also accused Pakistan of modifying American-made P-3C aircraft for land-attack missions. Both are violations of the US law, including the Arms Control Export Act.

"I am not going to talk about specific issues brought up in the story. We watch this closely. These are important agreements. This is not about any one country. With any country with which we exchange our defence articles, we have this kind of agreement," Crowley said.

"When we have concerns about how those systems should be used, we raise these concerns with the appropriate governments," he noted. The violation by Pakistan were first noted by the American intelligence agencies on April 23, The New York Times report stated, adding that Pakistan conducted an unannounced suspicious missile test that appeared to give the country a new offensive weapon.

However, Pakistan has denied those charges. The modified version of the missile would be a significant new entry into Pakistan's arsenal against India, as these would enable its small navy to strike targets on land in India, thus complementing the sizable land-based missile arsenal that Pakistan has developed.

Since early this year, when the Barack Obama administration had proposed to triple the non-military aid and also increase its military assistance to Pakistan, a number of US lawmakers have been making similar charges against Pakistan and demanding that any military aid to the country should be conditional.

The Congress is in the final stages of taking a decision on providing $7.5 billion in civilian aid to Pakistan. The latest expose has the potential to 'derail' this, the daily said.

Crowley said the administration is keeping the Congress fully informed on this issue. When asked if this would have any impact on the future of US aid to Pakistan, he said, "I would like to take one step at a time. We have raised some concerns. It has been done at the highest levels over a lengthy period of time. As we gain more facts, we will understand its potential implications."

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Lalit K Jha in Washington