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Croatia gives Israel deadline on F-16 jets sale

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ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) — Croatia on Thursday urged Israel to overcome a rare disagreement with the U.S. and confirm whether it can carry through on a deal to sell 12 used F-16 fighter jets, adding that otherwise the purchase will be annulled.

Croatia's Defense Ministry said it needs an answer from Israel by Jan. 11.

The tentative $500 million deal to buy the upgraded F-16 Barak fighter jets from Israel was made in March last year pending U.S. approval allowing Israel to sell the American-made jets to a third party. The deal ran into trouble after the U.S. State Department hinted that Israel needs to strip off the upgrades that were added after Israel bought the planes from the U.S. some 30 years ago.

Israel has upgraded the jets with sophisticated electronic and radar systems, which was crucial in Croatia's decision to buy the planes from Israel rather than from the U.S.

"If the planes are not in accordance with what we have agreed, the deal will not be carried out and we will have another purchase bid," Croatia's parliament speaker Gordan Jandrokovic said.

Relations between the Trump administration and Israel have been very close, particularly on defense issues. But the sale of the jets to Croatia appear to be one of the rare disagreements between the two countries. They were not overcome even after a meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday in Brazil, according to the Israeli media.

"We are expecting final and clear stands from both Israel and the United States on this issue and then we will make a final decision," Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said.

The deal is Croatia's largest single military purchase since it split from the Yugoslav federation in the 1991-95 war.

NATO member Croatia faces a mini arms race with Russian ally Serbia, which recently received six used Russian MiG-29 fighter jets.

FILE - In this Sunday, July 16, 2006 file photo, an Israeli F-16 warplane takes off to a mission in Lebanon from an air force base in northern Israel. Croatia has urged Israel to say whether it could carry out a deal to deliver 12 used F-16 fighter jets, or the purchase will be annulled. Croatia's Defense Ministry said Thursday Jan. 3, 2019, it needs an answer by Jan. 11, 2019. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit, File)
FILE - In this Sunday, July 16, 2006 file photo, an Israeli F-16 warplane takes off to a mission in Lebanon from an air force base in northern Israel. Croatia has urged Israel to say whether it could carry out a deal to deliver 12 used F-16 fighter jets, or the purchase will be annulled. Croatia's Defense Ministry said Thursday Jan. 3, 2019, it needs an answer by Jan. 11, 2019. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit, File)
FILE - In this July 23, 2006 file photo, an Israeli F-16 warplane takes off for a mission in Lebanon from an air force base in southern Israel. Croatia has urged Israel to say whether it could carry out a deal to deliver 12 used F-16 fighter jets, or the purchase will be annulled. Croatia's Defense Ministry said Thursday Jan. 3, 2019, it needs an answer by Jan. 11, 2019. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit, File)
FILE - In this July 23, 2006 file photo, an Israeli F-16 warplane takes off for a mission in Lebanon from an air force base in southern Israel. Croatia has urged Israel to say whether it could carry out a deal to deliver 12 used F-16 fighter jets, or the purchase will be annulled. Croatia's Defense Ministry said Thursday Jan. 3, 2019, it needs an answer by Jan. 11, 2019. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit, File)