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Senator questions U.S. embassy letter pushing Lockheed plane for Czechs

April 23, 1997

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A Missouri senator complained Wednesday that an Air Force officer unfairly suggested to Czech officials that the F-16 fighter was a better buy than the rival F/A-18 made by St. Louis-based McDonnell Douglas Corp.

``I am outraged that such statements were made by a representative of the U.S. government,″ Republican Sen. Christopher Bond wrote to Defense Secretary William Cohen and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

Bond asked the officials to investigate a letter written Feb. 21 by an Air Force officer on the letterhead of the U.S. Embassy in Prague that appears to favor the aircraft made by Bethesda, Md.-based Lockheed Martin.

McDonnell Douglas, Lockheed Martin and two European companies are vying to sell 30 advanced fighter planes to the Czechs for about $1 billion.

The letter, first reported Wednesday by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, was sent to a general in the Czech Air Defense Forces by U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Jeffrey M. Cukr, chief of the embassy’s Office of Defense Cooperation.

Cukr described both fighter planes as technical equals and ``very similar″ in performance. He said he was not trying to persuade the Czechs to purchase a certain fighter but said he was concerned about ``inaccuracies in the press″ about the aircraft.

He went on to point out that the F-16 would cost about $108 million each, compared with $144 million for the F/A-18.

Neither State nor Defense had any direct comment on the letter, but an employee at the U.S. Embassy in Prague, Staff Sgt. Steve Mackey, told the Post-Dispatch that the letter was ``just to try to clear things up a bit ... There was no malice, no ill will, just trying to get the facts straight on the table.″

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