WASHINGTON (Jan. 25)
Two groups of Democratic and Republican members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee have called on the Carter Administration not to act on Saudi Arabia’s request for 60 of the sophisticated F-15 fighter bombers, pending clarification of the Middle East negotiation process. The Administration apparently is heeding the advice and has decided to withhold its action, at least temporarily.
State Department spokesman Hodding Carter acknowledged today that the two Senatorial groups made their views known in separate letters to Secretary of State Cyrus Vance who is scheduled to go before the Senate Committee in executive session late today to explain the Administration’s position regarding the transfer of planes and other military equipment not only to Saudi Arabia but also to Egypt and Israel.
Regarding the Saudi request, which looms as the most controversial issue on U.S. arms sales in this session of Congress, spokesman Carter said, “this is still intended for further review within the Administration and further consultation with the Congress at the appropriate time.”
NOT AWARE OF PROMISE
The spokesman said he was “not aware” that President Carter had promised the Saudis he would sell them the F-15, considered the world’s foremost fighter aircraft, capable of long-range attacks and interceptions. Since Saudi Arabia supplied some 5000 troops to fight on the Syrian side in the Yom Kippur War and has allowed Egyptian pilots to train on U.S. aircraft already supplied to Saudi Arabia, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency asked spokesman Carter whether Saudi Arabia is now considered “a confrontation state.”
Carter replied that Saudi Arabia is not so considered. When JTA asked whether Saudi Arabia’s military strength is now considered in the balance of power in the Middle East, Carter replied he would not say whether it is.
Earlier, in response to a question, Carter said that “the events of the last 30 years character ### for the most part what the balance is.” He said that “one basis for decision” about the arms requested by Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel would have to do with the balance of forces. “That undergirds the decision we make to anyone,” he said.
Since it has been understood that the U.S. has decided in principle to supply Israel with the F-16, a fighter inferior to the F-15, but that the matter of numbers, delivery dates and co-production are pen ding, Carter was asked whether the decision on that principle has been withdrawn. “Decisions made in principle will stand,” he said.
Republican Senators Jacob Javits of New York Howard Baker of Tennessee and James Pearson of Kansas signed one letter. Democratic Senators Frank Church of Idaho, Joseph Biden of Delaware, Paul Sarbanes of Maryland, Dick Clark of lowa, Richard Stone of Florida and Claiborne Pell of Rhode Island signed the letter initiated by Church. The Church letter, which emerged first, was also signed by Republican Sen. Clifford Case of New Jersey.
CONSEQUENCES OF SALE EXPLAINED
“The uncertain status of the suspended Middle East negotiations requires that no action be taken that would jeopardize a resumption of the talks,” Church said, in urging that the Administration hold up the sales to Saudi Arabia. “At the very least, we strongly urge you to withhold the submission of a letter of offer until such time as the present uncertainty surrounding the peace talks has ended.”
Continuing, Church stated: “The 60 F-15s would destabilize the Arab-Israeli balance of power. Operations of such aircraft would seriously enlarge the threat of an aerial strike against Israeli military and civilian targets. The Saudi air base at Tabuk is only 150 miles from Israel’s major southern port–Eilat.”
Church said that the transfer of F-15s to Saudi Arabia “would impel other countries in the Persian Gulf to match the greatly enlarged Saudi striking power, thus leading to a dangerous escalation of the regional arms race.”
Following the circulation of Church’s letter in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Secretary of Energy James R. Schlesinger said that Saudi Arabia planned to increase its productive capacity of oil from about 10 million barrels a day a present to about 12 million barrels in 1983 or 1984. It was reported that the question of how much oil the Saudians will produce in the 1980s has been under discussion because of the leading role Saudi Arabia will play in meeting increased demands.
When a Capitol source close to the situation dealing with arms for Saudi Arabia and oil was asked if Schlesinger’s statement was intended to boost the chances of Congressional approval of the sale of F-15s to Saudi Arabia, the source replied, “Of course.”
In an action related to the sale of F-15s, the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council, at its annual plenary session in Tucson, expressed “deep concern.” In a telegram sent yesterday to President Carter, with a copy to Vance Theodore R. Mann, chairman of the Council, stated, in part:
“Saudi Arabia, which has purchased $12 billion in armaments in the past four years, has no remonstrable need for this most advanced aircraft whose range and capacity would make offensive strikes into Israel feasible, nor the capacity to integrate it into its air force. While Saudi Arabia is not one of the so-called confrontation states with Israel, there is no assurance that it might not transfer these aircraft to confrontation states in the event of war.”