Dutch coalition party threatens to oppose F-35 fighter purchase

AMSTERDAM Fri Sep 20, 2013 10:46am EDT

Workers can be seen on the moving line and forward fuselage assembly areas for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter at Lockheed Martin Corp's factory located in Fort Worth, Texas in this October 13, 2011 handout photo provided by Lockheed Martin. REUTERS/Lockheed Martin/Randy A. Crites/Handout

Workers can be seen on the moving line and forward fuselage assembly areas for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter at Lockheed Martin Corp's factory located in Fort Worth, Texas in this October 13, 2011 handout photo provided by Lockheed Martin.

Credit: Reuters/Lockheed Martin/Randy A. Crites/Handout

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AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - A Dutch order for Lockheed Martin's F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which earlier this week was seen as a boost for the troubled project, is in doubt again after one of the coalition parties threatened to oppose the deal.

Defence Minister Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, of Prime Minister Mark Rutte's Liberal Party, announced the decision to buy 37 F-35s on Tuesday as part of the 2014 budget.

But on Thursday night the Labour Party, Rutte's coalition partner, said it still has misgivings about the deal.

"I do not know if I can support this decision," party leader Diederik Samsom told a late-night television chat show.

Dutch politicians have wrangled for years over whether to buy the F-35 to replace F-16s that are being phased out.

The F-35 is designed to be the next-generation fighter for decades to come for U.S. forces and their allies in NATO, but it has been hit by technical faults, and is several years behind schedule and 70 percent above early cost estimates.

Britain, Australia, Italy, Norway, Israel and Japan have placed orders for the fighter, and Washington had lobbied the Netherlands hard not to be put off by fears of rising costs.

Rutte said on Friday he was not surprised that the decision to buy the F-35 had provoked intense debate.

"The cabinet has taken a decision, and now I hope all the parties in parliament will have a discussion about this, testing our decision from all sides," Rutte told reporters at his weekly press briefing.

"But I find it quite normal that parliament will have its say," he added, given the importance of the defence order, which is budgeted at 4.5 billion euros.

(Reporting by Thomas Escritt and Sara Webb; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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