Clinton asks Congress to OK fighter jets for Jordan

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Jordan came one step closer to receiving promised U.S. fighter jets last week when President Clinton asked Congress to set aside part of the defense budget for the military hardware.

Under the proposal, the Defense Department would shift $140 million slated for research and development to pay for the jets. An additional $60 million would come from aid already slated to go to Jordan.

"The transfer of the F-16 aircraft," Clinton wrote to Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, would "further the commitment made by the United States to support Jordan's efforts to further the Middle East peace process."

White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta took the funding proposal to a budget negotiating session with senior members of Congress. Panetta asked the lawmakers to include the necessary language to shift the funds to Jordan in a stopgap spending bill under consideration.

"Now that we have the request, there is no reason why the funds would not be made available," a congressional aide close to the budget talks said.

The proposed military transfer to Jordan would include 12 F-16A fighters and four F-16Bs. All the aircraft are old, inactive models that would be overhauled and upgraded prior to delivery.

As part of the deal, Israel would provide maintenance and support to Jordan to help defray the costs to the United States.

If passed, the military package would complete the package of aid the United States promised Jordan's King Hussein when he made peace with Israel.

Last year, all Jordan's debts to the United States were forgiven, at a cost of $275 million.