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Administration Urges Congress to Approve Arms Sale to Saudi Arabia

The Carter Administration today urged Congress to approve its proposed sale of sophisticated munitions to Saudi Arabia for its fleet of F-5 war planes, even though the package would give the Saudis superiority over Israel in some categories of weaponry.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee’s subcommittee on Europe and the Middle East and on international security and scientific affairs which received the testimony at a joint hearing, went into executive session immediately after an open hearing. The indications were that they would approve the package and submit it to the full House for consideration. The Senate also must approve.

Lucy Wilson Benson, Undersecretary of State for Security Assistance, Science and Technology, testified that “the threat” from Soviet dominated South Yemen and Soviet-backed Iraq “is real” and that “the munitions supplied would not have a significant impact on the balance of forces in the region.” She also said that Soviet supported Ethiopia and Afghanistan pose threats to Saudi Arabia’s extensive resources.

“The situation in the Persian Gulf has be came increasingly unstable and the Saudis perceive a more immediate threat from Soviet-inspired regimes in the area,” she said. Asked by Rep. Jonathan Bingham (D.NY) if Saudi oil output is a factor in U.S. support, Mrs. Benson replied that it would be “a grave disappointment” to the Saudis if they did not get the munitions. She said “the threat” to Saudi Arabia would not come “today, but I don’t know about next week.”

CURRENT PROPOSALS OUTLINED

Lt. Gen. Emest Graves, director of the Defense Department’s Security Assistance Agency, testified that in 1975 the U.S. sold 1000 laser-guided bombs and 3000 cluster bomb units to Saudi Arabia and a year later, 850 air-to-air Sidewinder missiles and 1600 Maverick missiles.

The current proposal is for 660 more Sidewinders and 916 Mavericks, 3435 laser-guided bombs and 1518 cluster bomb units. Graves put the total value at $120 million. Previously it had been reported that the sale would total $200 million. Graves said that Saudi Arabia has 117 F-5 war planes and 60 F-15s for cover.

James Montgomery, Deputy Assistant Director of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, which reports to the State Department, testified that if the sale to the Saudis was approved, Israel, which he said has approximately 1000 Mavericks, would have 450 fewer Maverick missiles than Saudi Arabia The sale would also give the Saudis an “inventory of 4435 laser guided bombs compared to 1500 for Israel.”

Montgomery said the proposed sale of Sidewinders and cluster bombs raises “no significant arms control concern.” He said “Israeli holdings” of cluster bombs “are already of a far greater magnitude than the Saudi inventory” and that Israel’s “inventory of air-to-air missiles– Sidewinders, Sparrow and Shafrir–quantitatively and qualitatively are superior to Saudi holdings.”

Montgomery indicated that he anticipated that Israel would call for additional weapons in view of the sale to the Saudis. He said the cluster bombs sale “should not stimulate reactive Israeli purchases” but that the Mavericks and laser-guided bombs “can take on political significance, particularly where there is a large numerical imbalance.”

He said the sales could be “used by the Israelis as justification” for requesting “compensating weapons.” When Rep. Benjamin Gilman (R. NY) suggested that “We may be fueling another arms race,” Montgomery replied, “that’s a consideration.”

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