WASHINGTON (Aug. 2)
Completion of a three-cornered deal for the sale by the United States to Jordan of 14 Hawk missile systems and 100 Vulcan anti-aircraft guns with Saudi Arabia providing the money, appears certain today although the State Department refused publicly to confirm it.
Administration sources leaked over the weekend that Saudi Arabia had agreed to supply the $540 million for the equipment and has transmitted its pledge to Washington. State Department spokesman Robert Funseth, however, said today that “progress” has been made on the deal but would not say whether the negotiations have been completed.
The deal, originated 18 months ago, stirred Congressional opposition led by Sen. Clifford Case (R. NJ), who observed the systems would be a threat against Israel. A compromise was reached by which the Administration pledged to require the missile batteries to be stationary so that they would not be as great a menace to Israel. The Administration says they are an air defense system.
PRICE WAS WRONG
The sale price at that time was $350 million which the Saudis had agreed to pay. Jordan, however, wanted additional war materiel and training programs that, together with inflation, boosted the price to $850 million. The Saudis balked at that sum.
Jordan blamed the U.S. for inflating the price and said it would negotiate with the Soviet Union for the weapons. That fell through, however, because the Soviets wanted cash for their weapons. At that time Administration sources put out stories that Congress was to blame for Jordan going to Moscow for weapons. That line, however, was set aside when the Saudis and Jordan, after Jordan’s failure in Moscow, negotiated the compromise figure, it is now said.
Meanwhile, the State Department again confirmed that the sale to Saudi Arabia of 2000 Sidewinders–an air-to-air missile–is not yet in the final stage. No letter of notification of the sale has been made to Congress, which has veto power over it. Congressional sources, however, said that Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger was prepared to ask Congressional approval two weeks ago and then decided against it. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported about that time that Congressional opposition caused the Department to reconsider the deal.
Instead of the Sidewinders, it is now being reported by Congressional and Administration sources, that the U.S. is prepared to sell Maverick missiles and laser bombs to Saudi Arabia. Funseth today said he would look into this report. There was another report that the Administration might still seek to sell the Saudis Sidewinders but would scale down the number to meet the objections of Congressional critics who said that 2000 was more than Saudi Arabia needed for its defense.