WASHINGTON (Jan. 24)
President Carter said today that the United States will “hold down” sales of arms to foreign countries, particularly those in the Middle East. He did not specifically name any country.
Carter also said that the time and place of a renewed conference on a Middle East peace settlement will have to wait until after Secretary of State Cyrus Vance visits the Mideast soon. He noted that if the Palestinians participate in the negotiations it would likely be as part of one of the Arab delegations.
The President’s remarks were made in a White House interview with the Associated Press and United Press International. Asked whether he planned to call a temporary or permanent arms sales moratorium, Carter, according to an unofficial transcript said:
MORATORIUM NOT THE RIGHT EXPRESSION
“I don’t think a moratorium would be the right expression, because that is an abrupt and total termination of all ownership. I don’t contemplate that. But in our first National Security Council meeting (Saturday) we discussed, and I think in unanimity, the necessity for reducing arms sales or having very tight restraints on future commitments to minimize the efforts by arms manufacturers to initiate sales early in the process.”
“The Secretary of State,” the President continued, “will be much more hesitant in the future to recommend to the Defense Department the culmination of arms sales agreements. I have asked that all approvals of arms sales, for a change, be submitted to me directly before the recommendations go to Congress.”
Carter added that he instructed Vice President Walter Mondale, who left yesterday for Europe and Japan, to ask U.S. allies “to join with us on a multilateral basis” in the arms limitations. The President described some of these nations as “heavy arms exporters.”
Carter also said “we will also be talking to some of the primary arms purchasers, particularly the Middle East when Secretary Vance goes there very shortly to hold down their own purchases of arms from us and other countries.”
REFERRING TO IRAN, SAUDI ARABIA
The immediate reaction was uncertainty as to the scope of the limitations in so far as it affects Israel which is virtually dependent in its entirety on the United States for sophisticated weaponry and clarification was seen as necessary. President Ford had pledged four categories of special arms to Israel but this was never translated into a formal presentation to Congress, but left to the Carter Administration for action.
The President’s remarks came at a time when there was a report that the U.S. would restrain its arms deliveries as a means of inducing Israel to move more rapidly in the direction of some sort of an agreement with its Arab neighbors. At the Capitol, however, informed sources told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that the President does not have limitations on Israel in mind but rather was obliquely referring to Iran and Saudi Arabia which are the heaviest purchasers of U.S. arms.
Noting the President’s remarks on arms manufacturers, one source told the JTA that Carter’s whole concern is to prevent “the hustling of arms” and was directed to those companies that make major sales to Iran and Saudi Arabia. Sales to these countries, he said, have been a constant source of congressional complaints.
Geneva Conference Likely This Year
Carter was also asked about the prospects of a Geneva conference on the Middle East, and whether the U.S. would formulate a final Arab-Israeli settlement proposal. “I think the conference on the Middle East is very likely this year,” he said. “I would hate to go into more detail about where or when until after at least the Secretary of State has had a chance to consult in depth with the heads of state–Israel and Egypt and Syria. Saudi Arabia and Jordan.”
Carter added: “Many of these leaders will be invited to come and visit me here.” The President was asked whether he approved of the Palestinians having representation at a Mideast peace conference and about eventual Palestinian statehood. “I think it would not be appropriate now for me to spell out specifications,” Carter said. “If the Palestinians should be invited to the meeting as agreed by the other participating nations, along with us, it would probably be as part of one of the Arab delegations. But that is something still to be decided.”