WASHINGTON (May. 11)
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in an 8-8 vote today, rejected a resolution to block the Carter Administration’s proposed package sale of advanced war planes to Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, but by a unanimous vote a short while later, decided to send the package proposal to the full Senate for debate.
The tie vote had four Democrats and four Republicans supporting the Administration. The Democrats were committee chairman John Sparkman, Ala.; John Glenn, Ohio; George McGovern, S.D.; and Muriel Humphrey, Minn.; and Republicans Howard Baker, Tenn.; Robert Griffin, Mich.; James Pearson, Kans.; and Charles Percy, III. Democrats who voted against the Administration were Frank Church, Idaho; Paul Sarbanes, Md.; Richard Stone, Fla.; Claiborne Pell, R.I.; Joseph Biden, Del.; and Richard Clark, Iowa. The Republicans were Clifford Case, N.J. and Jacob Javits, N.Y.
Sarbanes asked the committee to vote to allow the issue to go to the Senate floor. No serious opposition was raised although technicalities were debated as to how it would be presented to the full Senate and the structure of the floor debate.
Deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher, who attended the hearings, said, when asked by a reporter for an opinion, that he preferred that the issue stop now and not go to the floor.
Church said that in his view the issue will go to the Senate early next week and that it will be voted an as a package as it was presented to the Senate by President Carter. He said it would include the deliveries of 60 F-15 aircraft to Saudi Arabia, 15 F-15s and 75 F-16s to Israel and 50 F-5E jets to Egypt. Church would not predict the outcome in the Senate. He said, however, that the resolution would not be subject to amendments and “must be voted up or down,” as is.
NO INCLINATION TO ‘DE-COUPLE’
Church said “the Administration has shown no inclination” to “de-couple” the package presented and the committee’s vote today means that “the issue is now set” for a vote by the full Senate. He said “the problem with the President’s package” was that it was “an executive action never contemplated by law. The President at no time receded from his proposition” that either all of the package is accepted or none of it, Church said. He said the President’s action subsequent to his original proposal did not “de-couple” the sales in “any meaningful way.”
In supporting Sarbane’s motion, McGovern said that he wanted to incorporate in it a suggestion by Humphrey that the committee strongly urge Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel to “move expeditiously toward peace.” He said the committee had agreed that “we do want negotiations to go forward” and that the Administration should “use as leverage for peace the deliveries of war planes to the three countries before 1980.”
CARTER’S LETTER TO SPARKMAN
Before the committee voted today it had before it a letter from President Carter addressed to Sparkman and a letter from Defense Secretary Harold Brown. The President’s letter said that “the delivery of the aircraft to Israel will be completed by the third quarter of 1983. To emphasize the deep and continuing character of our commitment to Israel, we will give sympathetic consideration to the request from Israel for additional combat aircraft for delivery in subsequent years. In particular, I am pleased to give firm assurance at this time that I will transmit to Congress in 1979 a subsequent proposal to make available to Israel 20 F-15s in 1983-84.”
Brown said in his letter that Saudi Arabia had agreed to “prohibitions and restrictions on their use of the F-15s.” Brown wrote that the assurances from Saudi Arabia included a commitment not to transfer the planes to a third country or to permit the nationals of such country to train in the aircraft without authorization from the U.S.
Sarbanes was one of several committee members who questioned the value of the Saudi assurances. He said Saudi Arabia could use the planes to fly cover for Syrian or other Arab aircraft attacking Israel.
Percy said he supported the Administration’s package because Saudi Arabia would purchase advanced French Mirage jets if it did not get the F-15s. Asked by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency where he got that information, Percy said it came from Administration and Saudi sources but declined to identify them.
To be acceptable to Congress, leading Foreign Relations Committee members had said the Administration’s proposal would have to include iron-clad commitments by Saudi Arabia not to deploy the planes at Tabuk, within 30 minutes striking time from Tel Aviv, not to equip them with multiple bomb racks, not to transfer them to a third country and not to train foreign nationals in their use or to fly them.
Meanwhile, the House International Relations Committee met in closed session today to hear testimony on the aircraft deal from CIA Director Stanfield Turner. It will meet in closed session late Monday or Tuesday to hear from Jerome Stolerow, Deputy Director for Procedures in the Systems Acquisition Division of the General Accounting Office.