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New Zealand Cancels F-16 Contract

Story Filed: Monday, March 20, 2000 10:40 AM EST

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) -- New Zealand will cancel a contract to buy 28 U.S. F-16 fighters because an air combat force is not a priority, the prime minister said Monday.

Prime Minister Helen Clark announced the cancellation after a Cabinet meeting reviewed a report from a former legislator who recommended that the government seek to renegotiate the deal to take 14 planes.

The prime minister said the original agreement by New Zealand's previous center-right government was good, but an air combat force was not a priority now. There were other higher defense priorities that require government spending, she said.

Clark said the U.S. and Australian governments and other New Zealand defense allies in Asia were informed last week that the F-16 lease-to-purchase agreement would be canceled.

Clark said her government inherited a defense force in a weak financial position with no framework for strategic decision-making.

New Zealand will spend the same on defense that it did in the last fiscal year but will seek to ensure that all expenditures meet the government's primary defense priorities, she said.

Those priorities include having a mobile land force, a good quality air and maritime surveillance capability and an air force ``support'' capability.

The country's fleet of aging A4 Skyhawk fighter-bombers -- which were to be replaced by the new F16s -- will continue in service and remain capable for some years to come, she said.

U.S. Ambassador Carole Moseley-Braun was not immediately available for comment, but was quoted on local radio as saying the United States was disappointed by the decision.

Copyright ) 2000 Associated Press Information Services, all rights reserved.

-- (, March 20, 2000

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