State Dept. Confusion on Middle East Arms Policy Stirs Washington
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State Dept. Confusion on Middle East Arms Policy Stirs Washington

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Congressional circles were stirred today by the confusion in the State Department regarding the United States arms policy for Israel and the Arab countries which was brought to light this week-end in dramatic developments in which an embargo on arms shipment to the Middle East imposed in the early morning hours Friday was lifted late yesterday.

The lifting of the embargo released for shipment to Saudi Arabia 18 modern American army tanks valued at more than $100,000 each. Only a day before, these tanks were prevented from leaving the port of Brooklyn, by a ban, announced by the State Department, temporarily suspending arms export licenses for the Middle East area.

Yesterday’s sudden removal of the ban followed careful consultations with President Eisenhower, as did its imposition 36 hours earlier. The matter was discussed virtually all day Saturday by top State Department officials. Developments also included a meeting of Acting Secretary of State Herbert Hoover, Jr., with chairman Walter F. George of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Sen. George earlier demanded a Senate investigation of the arms question. In a statement announcing yesterday’s decision, the State Department made known that the situation has been restored to what it was on Thursday before the embargo was placed on the tank shipment to Saudi Arabia.


The lifting of the embargo, State Department spokesman Lincoln White emphasized, is not related to Israel’s pending application to buy some $50,000,000 worth of arms to balance the flow of Communist munitions to the Arabs. The State Department said in its statement that “limited arms deliveries has from time to time been authorized to the Arab states and to Israel.” However, Israel sources maintained today that Israel received no heavy arms from the United States. It is understood that arms export licenses approved so far for Israel authorize about $110,000 worth of militarily unimportant spare parts for automotive and aircraft equipment, none of it in the weapons category.

Meanwhile, it was learned here today that the United States has sold to Saudi Arabia not only tanks but also bombing planes. It was reported that about 100 shipments of arms to Arab countries have been made from the United States during the last six months. The Saudi Arabian Ambassador yesterday conferred with George V. Allen, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs. Informed sources reported that the Ambassador told the State Department that unless the tanks were shipped Saudi Arabia might turn to the Communist bloc for such equipment and might also question the wisdom of extending an agreement allowing the United States Air Force to use a Saudi Arabian base.


The State Department version of the Saudi Arabian tank issue follows: “On the evening of February 16, when numerous inquiries were made concerning the tank shipment about to leave New York harbor, it was decided to suspend all outstanding export licenses for the area in question pending an examination to assure that such exports were being made in compliance with pertinent laws and regulations; and were in conformity with the policies of the U. S. with respect to the maintenance of peace and stability in the area. This examination has taken place and it was confirmed that all licenses conformed with the above criteria.

The President has therefore decided to permit the export of those items covered by outstanding valid export licenses for the Arab states and Israel which have not already gone forward. As in the past, outstanding requests for arms which have not been approved and future requests will, of course, be subjected to most careful scrutiny in the light of policies enunciated in the Tripartite Declaration and applicable acts of Congress, and within the context of a continuing review of the situation in the area.”

Declaring that the President was fully advised, currently informed, and that he “fully approves” of the statement issued, the State Department added: “The U. S. has since August of last year authorized licenses covering a total of less than $16,000,000 for the Near East countries in question, much of the material already having been shipped. A substantial part of this involves spare parts, communications equipment and miscellaneous small items for maintenance and other purposes. It also includes commercial aircraft and parts. All presently outstanding licenses, which include the shipments now in New York harbor, are within this total.

“During the past year numerous applications were received by the U. S. from countries in that area for large quantities of arms. These requests totalled more than $150,000,000. When the massive shipments of arms by the Soviet bloc to the Near East was confirmed in September of last year, it was a clear signal for the starting of an arms race that would increase the danger of war in the area. The U. S. is maintaining a continuous review of the whole question of Near East arms shipments, and no action has been taken to authorize any of these large requests.”

Spokesman Lincoln White said the Israel and Arab governments will be informed of yesterday’s decision. No meetings were held with the British or French on the decision, he said.

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