WASHINGTON (Jan. 16)
Shaping up as the major controversial issue in the United States arms sales policy after Congress reconvenes Thursday is Saudi Arabia’s unquenched desire for the most advanced weaponry in the American arsenal, particularly F-15 fighter planes, which are rated the world’s best, and closer adherence by the Carter Administration to the Saudi perception of a Middle East peace.
Congressional sources indicated that the Saudian request for the F-15s is being “considered” and that key Congressmen are being consulted. However, it is understood from State Department sources that the Carter Administration has agreed to deliver the planes if Congress is willing. That, it is said, is a major reason for Energy Secretary James Schlesinger’s four-day visit to Saudi Arabia which ended yesterday.
One of the topics Schlesinger may have discussed with the Saudians was whether they would contribute to the Carter Administration’s proposal for a huge stockpile of crude oil and whether Saudi Arabia would increase production to supply world energy needs in the 1980s.
In return, it is understood here, the Saudians want the F-15s and other sophisticated weaponry and military infrastructure and a Washington commitment to support Arab sovereignty over East Jerusalem as well as pressure Israel to withdraw to its 1967 borders. Saudi Arabian officials, on their visit to Washington last spring, pledged that oil will not be used as a pressure element in Mideast settlement negotiations, but this is now believed no longer operative.
ATTITUDE TOWARD EGYPT AND ISRAEL
Congress is also due to consider American arms sales policy toward Egypt and Israel. Military support for Egypt, thus far held down to an agreement to repair and refurbish its Soviet MIG fleet of 200 fighter planes by private American contractors and delivery of 20 troop transport planes, is as yet an undecided factor. The Administration, however, undoubtedly is prepared to provide some form of massive arms support as a reward for President Anwar Sadat’s journey to Jerusalem last November, according to Congressional sources.
Insofar as Israel is concerned, the feeling at the Capitol is that the Carter Administration will again offer $1 billion in military sales credits as it has in the current fiscal year. Actually, this figure would represent a decline in assistance to Israel in view of the ravages of inflation and the increased cost of weapons.
While the U.S. budget is virtually complete for fiscal 1979 that begins next Oct. I and will be presented to Congress Jan. 23, the pertinent details on arms sales and aid in general for the Mideast countries are expected to be temporarily withheld pending the results of the negotiations now under way between Cairo and Jerusalem.