WASHINGTON (Sep. 1)
Reports from Cairo that the Soviet Union is increasing the number of Russian-piloted jet fighter squadrons in Egypt drew comments of “real concern” from the State Department today. It was reported that three more squadrons of SU-11s, considered one of the best fighter-bombers in the Soviet Air Force, are expected in Egypt within the next few weeks. Each squadron is made up of between 12 and 16 planes. Responding to questions from newsmen, State Department spokesman Robert J. McCloskey said “I think we have made it clear that” the United States considers Soviet arms and “military operational involvement” in the Middle East “a matter of real concern.” Other State Department sources said that the best current information available about Russian involvement indicates that the balance has not changed significantly since last spring. They said reports from Cairo that there are now six MIG-21 and two SU-11 squadrons in Egypt are “on the high side.” However, McCloskey said that Soviet involvement “could have most serious consequences and we are watching the matter.”
The Department spokesman said President Nixon and Secretary of State William P. Rogers have “made it clear on numerous occasions that we will maintain the military balance in the area.” Pressed by newsmen as to whether, in his view, the military balance has not yet been tipped in the Middle East as a result of the reported new Soviet military shipments. McCloskey said “we adhere to the principle of not letting the balance to tip against Israel and we have no indication that it has.” He said it would serve no purpose to discuss the U.S.’s military supply relationships with Israel, and he added that “while maintaining the balance, we will continue pursuing efforts for an interim settlement for the opening of the Suez Canal and military disengagement in the area.” Asked to define “military disengagement,” McCloskey said that with regard to the interim settlement, “one factor is the evacuation of some area still to be defined in the Sinai.” Referring to anther report that American M-60 tanks are being unloaded at Aqaba for the Jordan government, McCloskey said he did not know of any new military arrangement with Jordan.