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WASHINGTON: The United States has ‘absolutely no intention’ of diminishing its relationship with Pakistan in any way, says the US State Department.

At the Tuesday news briefing, the department’s spokesman refused to criticise Pakistan for saying that it would look for other options if a deal for buying eight F-16 fighter jets from the United States fails.

“These are sovereign decisions that nations make with respect to their defence needs, and it’s up to Pakistan to speak to how they’ll fulfil their defence needs,” said spokesman John Kirby when asked if Pakistan bought fighter jets from China, would it strain its relations with the United States.

“As for the relationship, as I’ve said many, many times, it’s an important one. It’s critical; it’s vital in that — particularly in that part of the world; and it’s a relationship we have absolutely no intention of losing focus on or diminishing in any way,” he said. “But these are obviously sovereign decisions that Pakistan has to make,” he added.

State Dept spokesman refuses to criticise Pakistan over F-16 deal comments

When another reporter reminded him that a Pakistani minister had described the US aid to Pakistan as “peanuts,” Mr Kirby said: “I would just simply say that, again, it’s an important relationship. We’re going to continue to support that relationship”.

The official defended the assistance that the United States has provided to Pakistan despite a strong opposition from certain lobbies in Congress.

“We fully stand behind the kinds of support that we have provided to Pakistan over the last many years with respect specifically to their counterterrorism capabilities and counterterrorism needs,” he said. “And we’re going to continue to look for ways to improve that cooperation as best we can”.

Last week, Congress prevented the US administration from subsidising the $700 million F-16 deal.

Under the arrangement, Pakistan was to pay $270m for the eight aircraft while the US was to provide about $430m from its foreign military financing facility.

Pakistan has expressed its inability to pay the entire amount.

Published in Dawn, May 5th, 2016