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UAE To Buy 80 Lockheed Jets

Concluding a high-stakes international competition, Vice President Al Gore Tuesday announced that the United Arab Emirates will buy 80 U.S.-made, F-16 fighter jets.

The nearly $8 billion deal involves planes made at the Lockheed Martin plant in Fort Worth, Texas.

The announcement came in Washington as the United Arab Emirate's crown prince, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, was meeting with President Clinton and Gore at the White House.

Gore plans to travel to Texas on Friday to tour the Lockheed Martin plant in Fort Worth.

Gore spokeswoman Jodi Sakol would not discuss the vice president's trip other than to say Gore "will be making an announcement that will bring thousands of jobs to Texas."

The deal is considered a coup for Lockheed Martin, which earlier in the competition was viewed as lagging behind a French entry, Dassault Aviation's Ravale. At a defense exhibition last year in Abu Dhabi, an Emirates' armed forces official said the F-16's specifications did not meet UAE requirements.

Lockheed Martin had been circumspect about the negotiations prior to the announcement.

"All I can say is that we've been working with the UAE for a long time now and we're continuing to get signals that are positive," said Lockheed Martin spokesman Joe Stout prior to the announcement.

New F-16 sales will not necessarily create new jobs, though they could help avoid some planned layoffs. Lockheed recently announced its intention to pare 2,000 of its 11,000 Fort Worth workers.

The UAE deal comes at a pivotal time for the F-16 production line. Currently, the last delivery for the U.S. Air Force is scheduled for 2001, meaning that the line will be sustained only by foreign sales unless Congress decides to purchase new copies.

Sales to the UAE will likely keep the line running through 2005, and possibly a few years beyond that.