State Department Denies Report That U.S. Agrees in Principle to Sell Israel 58 Jets

State Department officials today denied a report that the United States has, within the last few days, agreed in principle to sell 58 F-4 Phantom jet fighter-bombers to Israel. They said negotiations for the supersonic aircraft were continuing but have yet to reach a stage in which Secretary of State Dean Rusk could report a final decision or make recommendations to the White House in accordance with President Johnson’s instructions of Oct. 9. State Department sources said however that it was probable that a transaction will be consummated before Jan. 20, 1969 when the Nixon Administration takes office.

(New York Times correspondent Benjamin Welles reported from Washington today that a United States decision to sell the jets to Israel, made within the last few days, “takes the arms negotiations between the two countries a decisive step beyond President Johnson’s announcement of Oct. 9″ instructing the Secretary of State to initiate negotiations with Israel and “report back to me.”

“Now it is reported Israel has not only received approval for the purchase but also has been granted approval for buying 10 more planes than the 48 she initially requested.” Mr. Welles wrote. He noted that there was some confusion over the numbers since it was widely reported that Israel had asked for 50 of the Phantoms. Mr. Welles attributed his information to “responsible American sources” but said U.S. and Israeli sources were reluctant to comment in detail on the latest stage in the Phantom deal. According to reliable information, Mr. Welles said, the negotiations are expected to shift shortly from the State Department to the office of Henry J. Kuss, Jr., the deputy assistant Secretary of Defense in charge of international logistical negotiations.)

State Department officials here said that specialists from Israel were taking part in the “continuing discussions” but added that there was yet to be a “breakthrough” that could be termed decisive. They also said it would be pointless to comment on whether 58 Phantoms would be sold, as the Times report said, instead of 48 or 50 originally mentioned, because the U.S. Government has yet to reach a basic policy decision on the sale of any Phantoms to Israel, although the question is under active discussion and negotiation.

Japan became the second nation in less than a month to announce its intention to purchase Phantom jets, it was reported here this week. Earlier, West Germany said it would purchase 88 jets to serve as the mainstay of its Air Force.

Kaneshichi Masuada, director-general of the Japanese Defense Agency, said at a news conference in Tokyo that Premier Eisaku Sato approved the selection of the Phantom. A spokesman for the agency said there had been no final decision taken on the number of Phantoms to be purchased or when the purchase would be made. Sources said that Japan probably would buy more than 60 Phantoms. The cost was estimated at $3.5 million each, excluding special modifications or provision for spare parts and maintenance equipment. The same purchase price has been cited in reports of Israel’s negotiations here.

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