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Pakistan looking to sell combat jets to Saudi Arabia


The JF-17 combat jet. A Pakistan Aeronautical Complex photo

ISLAMABAD (PTI): Pakistan on Thursday said it is looking at selling JF-17 Thunder combat jets and trainer aircraft to Saudi Arabia but rejected reports it was in talks with the oil-rich nation for nuclear cooperation.

Saudi Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud is scheduled to visit Pakistan during February 15-17. The visit is expected to focus on deeper security and defence cooperation between the two sides.

Foreign Office spokesperson Tasnim Aslam told a weekly news briefing that defence cooperation would figure in the Crown Prince's interactions and that Pakistan was eyeing Saudi Arabia as a market for military gear.

"Certainly, defence cooperation would figure in the talks.

The army chief would be calling on him separately," she said.

Pakistan is interested in selling arms to Saudi Arabia, including the JF-17 Thunder jet co-developed with China, the Mushshak trainer aircraft and other equipment, she added.

Aslam rejected recent Western media reports suggesting that Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are looking at nuclear cooperation, describing them as "baseless".

"There is a whispering campaign and at times there are reports based on leaks or background briefings...They are baseless. Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are not discussing nuclear cooperation," she said.

This would be Crown Prince's first visit to Pakistan after he became Defence Minister in 2011. Prince Salman, Aslam noted, was also the Deputy Prime Minister.

During the visit, the Prince will hold talks with President Mamnoon Hussain and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on bilateral and global issues of mutual interest.

Replying to questions on the possible stationing of Pakistani troops in Saudi Arabia, Aslam said, "There is no specific reference to stationing of Pakistani troops in Saudi Arabia. You know that we have been providing training to the Saudi armed forces."

The Saudi Crown Prince's visit comes amid stepped up engagements between the two countries. The highest-level meetings between Riyadh and Islamabad in six years began last month with successive visits to Pakistan by Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al Faisal and Deputy Defence Minister Prince Salman bin Sultan.

This was followed last week by new Pakistan Army chief Gen. Raheel Sharif's first overseas trip to Saudi Arabia, during which he held discussions on a "new era in strategic partnership".

Analysts say both countries are looking to deepen their strategic ties as the US begins to shifts its focus from war-torn Afghanistan. US attempts to improve ties with Iran is another factor, they say.

Aslam said Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have traditionally had "very good, close interactions" and there were "always frequent visits" by the leaders of the two sides.

"Of course, Afghanistan will be discussed because the Gulf countries also have concerns about the situation. As fellow Muslim countries, they would like to see peace and stability in Afghanistan," she said.

The Crown Prince's delegation will include Economy and Planning Minister Mohammed bin Sulaiman Al-Jasser, Commerce Minister Tawfiq bin Fawzan Al Rabiah, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Nizar Bin Obaid Madani and important businessmen.

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