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US denies a tilt toward Pakistan on arms

WASHINGTON will sell sophisticated warplanes to Pakistan only if that will help roll back Islamabad's nuclear program, a senior US official was quoted as saying yesterday.

Assistant Secretary of State Robin Raphel told an Indian television current affairs program that the Clinton administration's proposal to sell F-16s to Islamabad did not mean the US was tilting toward Pakistan, which has fought three wars with India since independence in 1947.

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Ms. Raphel did not elaborate, but officials in Washington said Pakistan would have to make a commitment to nuclear nonproliferation to receive delivery of the planes.

Both countries are capable of building nuclear weapons. India - which has exploded a nuclear device - denies it is producing bombs but believes Pakistan has already done so.

Raphel is on a fence-mending visit to India after provoking a storm of protest with comments suggesting that Washington did not recognize the disputed northern state of Kashmir as a permanent part of India.

She explained that her comments had been misinterpreted by the Indian media, which accused her of siding with Pakistan in its claims over the Himalayan region, the cause of two of the three wars between the neighboring nations.

India accuses Pakistan of fomenting and fueling revolt in Kashmir, the only Muslim-majority region of largely Hindu India. Islamabad says it offers only diplomatic support, but the revolt has plunged relations between the countries to fresh lows.

Raphel said Washington wanted ``warm and productive'' relations with both countries.

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