China is seeking to reverse US opposition to the sale of an Israel Aircraft Industries Phalcon airborne early warning aircraft to Beijing as relations between Washington and Beijing warm.

The USA forced Israel to abandon the Phalcon sale last year by threatening to cut military aid by $250 million. China signed a deal for up to four Beriev A-50s - modified Ilyushin Il-76s transports with a rotordome - in 1995, which were due to be equipped with the Phalcon system. The contract was worth up to $1 billion and China had handed over $200 million by the time the deal was cancelled.

China's request is expected as Washington continues "coalition building" efforts to support its action against Afghanistan.

Israeli sources say the Phalcon deal was not discussed by presidents Jiang Zemin and George Bush at the US president's recent visit to China, but that it "was in the background".

Although the deal has been blocked, Israel has indicated to the USA that approval to deliver the first system would solve the "immediate problem". An A-50 has been sitting at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport since late 1999.

China has not asked Israel for compensation or for the $200 million paid for the first aircraft in the hope that at least the first Phalcon can be delivered.

Source: Flight International