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Senate in All-day Debate on Middle East Planes Sale Deal

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The Senate was engaged in a crucial all-day debate today over President Carter’s proposed $4.8 billion plane sale to Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

(In Jerusalem, hours before the crucial Senate vote on the Mideast arms package, informed sources made it clear that Israel would prefer that the whole package be annulled, and lose its own planes too, rather than see Saudi Arabia get the 60 F-15s earmarked for her. Apparently, Senators were being informed in Washington of this Israeli position as they worked toward their final decision on how to vote.)

The debate began at 10 a.m. and was scheduled to run into the evening as the Senate set aside 10 hours for it, divided evenly between supporters and opponents of the sale. The 10-hour debate included two hours this afternoon in closed session proposed by Sen. Abraham Ribicoff (D. Conn.), a staunch supporter of the President’s proposal. According to Senate sources, the two-hour session dealt with classified information on the military implications the proposed warplanes sale would have on the Mideast balance of power.

RIBICOFF SUPPORTS ADMINISTRATION’S DEAL

Shortly before the Senate went into its closed session, Ribicoff strongly defended each aspect of the warplanes sales proposals. During the course of the open Senate debate he said the proposed sale of 15 F-15 and 75 F-16 aircraft to Israel “will enhance both its security and sense of security. A strong and secure Israel is in our national interest. But a strong U.S., militarily, economically and diplomatically, is also in the best interests of the State of Israel.”

With respect to the 50 F-5E planes earmarked for Egypt, Ribicoff described President Anwar Sadat as “a responsible man who will surely not abuse the modest boost in Egypt’s air strength. “In pressing for approval of the 60 F-15s for Saudi Arabia, Ribicoff stressed that “new realities” in the Middle East “forces us in this country to take a fresh look,” to “ask hard questions” and to “remind ourselves that we are here to serve America’s national interests.”

He described Saudi Arabia as “a major world power” by virtue of its “oil and financial resources.” He urged that Saudi Arabia “should not be dismissed simply because it is an Arab country.”

OPPONENTS WARN OF DANGERS

Sen. Jacob Javits (R.NY) a leading opponent of the sale charged in this morning’s session that “The President set out to teach the Israelis a lesson (by the plane package). That is what this is about….My argument here is what is the impact of this determination today on the Middle East policy of the United States and I submit that it will be highly adverse to the present interest which the United States has in the future to redeem that whole area from its age-old poverty, ignorance and blindness.”

His Republican colleague on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Clifford Case of New Jersey, who also argued in favor of the resolution to reject the plane sales, said:

I think it involves in a very direct way the whole matter of the strength of the West in its confrontation with the Soviet Union, the ability of the West to maintain itself against constant pressure of the Soviet Union, its physical ability to do this as well as its moral ability to handle the situation. It used to be, in my experience, axiomatic that Israel’s strength was an essential element of the strength of the West, “but now there seems to be an erosion of this belief, Case said.

But committee chairman John Sparkman(D. Ala.) spoke in favor of the President’s package proposal as did Senate Minority Leader Howard Baker (R. Tenn.). Baker said he also believed Israel should get the full 150 F-16s it originally asked for, not just the 75 in the President’s present proposal, as well as the 20 F-15s Carter had promised in a last minute compromise last week to provide Israel in addition to the 15 in the present proposal. Baker said this would maintain the “special relationship” the U.S. has with Israel.

Sen. Joseph Biden (D. Del.), who introduced the resolution last Thursday in the Foreign Relations Committee to reject the sales, said today that a $4.8 billion plane sale to the Mideast “will have a debilitating effect” on progress toward peace in the Mideast. Biden’s resolution failed by an 8-8 vote but the committee then unanimously decided to send the resolution to the full Senate for action.

LIBERAL COALITION ASSAILS SALES

As the Senators were debating, a group of liberals calling itself the Emergency Committee for the Middle East that included Black and white civil rights leaders, held a press conference outside on the steps of the Capital urging the Senate to vote against the arms package “in order to give peace a chance” in the Mideast.

In a statement read by Sister Margaret Trexler of the Coalition of American Nuns, the group said: ” The historic meeting in Jerusalem between President (Anwar) Sadat of Egypt and Prime Minister (Menachem) Begin of Israel was hailed around the world as a great and bold step toward the achievement of a just and lasting peace in the troubled Middle East. But it has been a mere six months since that first meeting and the progress of peace negotiations has been slow and difficult–understandably slow, given the long and tragic history of the conflict.

“With peace negotiations still in their infancy, we believe that the Administration’s proposals to pour billions of dollars worth of advance aircraft into that volatile area is not only ill-timed but also undermines the prospect for reaching a lasting settlement. We cannot understand what is so compelling about providing these armaments to countries which are trying to forge peace out of 30 years of war….”

Among other members of the committee were Prof. John K. Galbraith; Clarence Mitchell of the NAACP; Joseph Rauh; David Cohen, of Common Cause; Bayard Rustin; Judith Levine Litchman of the Women’s Legal Defense Fund; and Martin Peretz, editor of the New Republic.

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