September 11, 2019 / 4:45 PM / 5 days ago

U.S. backs proposed $6.5 billion sale of 32 F-35 Lockheed jets to Poland

FILE PHOTO - A Lockheed Martin F-35 aircraft is seen at the ILA Air Show in Berlin, Germany, April 25, 2018. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. State Department said on Wednesday it had approved a proposed sale of 32 Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 fighter jets worth $6.5 billion to Poland.

In April, the Pentagon told Congress it was considering selling the jets to the European nation, a NATO member, as well as Greece, Romania, Spain and Singapore.

The sale would boost Poland’s contributions to NATO and reduce the country’s dependence on Russian equipment, a State Department official said in a statement. During the Cold War, Poland, which shares borders with Russia and fellow NATO member Germany, belonged to the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact.

The approval of the sale comes days after U.S. Vice President Mike Pence visited Poland, a key ally in the region, to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the start of World War Two.

Under President Donald Trump, the United States has rolled out a “Buy American” plan that relaxed restrictions on sales and encouraged U.S. officials to take a bigger role in increasing business overseas for the American weapons industry.

However, the United States began the process in April to remove Turkey from the multinational F-35 program after Ankara said it would proceed in purchasing a Russian S-400 missile defense system that NATO officials say is not compatible with the F-35.

Congress was notified of the State Department’s approval on Tuesday, a State Department official said.

Reporting by Bryan Pietsch, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien and Jonathan Oatis

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