WASHINGTON: The Obama administration is expected to formally notify the US Congress of its intention to sell eight F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan in December as efforts to stop it gather momentum. The notification, many believe, will set into motion a process that guarantees the sale, unless its opponents are able to muster enough votes, and interest in the issue, in Congress.

Earlier reports about the notification, in the run-up to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s US visit in October, were categorically and strenuously rejected by the White House. F-16s, multirole fighter jets made by US firm Lockheed Martin are seen as a symbol of US support to Pakistan in its fight against terrorism.

And reports about a proposal to sell eight more of them — Pakistan already has 70 — alarmed India and pro-India elements in the US, who launched a campaign to stop it. A showdown seems imminent with a notification coming in December.

But the state department, which clears the sale of US military hardware to foreign nations and notifies Congress, said Monday, “We have no specific announcement to make at this time.”

Besides, the spokesperson added, “as a matter of policy, we do not comment on foreign military sales until they are formally notified to Congress.” Operative words: “formally notified”.

If the administration gets no response from Congress within a specified period after the notification, the sale goes through. If the answer is no, the sale would stand blocked.

The administration sent Congress something called the Letter Of Offer (LOA), which has been variously described also as “informal notification” or “pre-notification”, in October.

That was around the time of the Sharif visit. An announcement was widely expected then, but none came. An official, in fact, denied reports Congress had been notified.

But the intention to sell the fighter jets, which in South Asia are seen as a symbol of US support and backing, was not denied.