State Department Blasts ‘leaks’ in Wake of Opposition to Saudi Request for Sophisticated Arms

Irked by strong opposition by the Israeli government and its friends in Congress over the Carter Administration’s consideration of a Saudi Arabian request to build up its air force, a State Department spokesman lashed out today at “leaks” critical of the Administration.

Hodding Carter, chief spokesman for Secretary of State Edmund Muskie, confirmed that the Israeli Ambassador, Ephraim Evron, had objected yesterday to enhanced combat capability of the 60 F-15 warplanes to be supplied to Saudi Arabia. “I trust that no government objects to our government considering something,” He said. He said that the issue over the Saudi Arabian request will be “interesting” and will take place “in the face of leaks not only from embassies but agencies around town.”

He did not identify either the embassies or the agencies, Carter said discussion is taking place with the Saudi Arabian government and that “the decisions have not been taken inside this government on these matters.” Carter told reporters “I would suggest to you very strongly that what you are having is a policy debate–a foreign policy debate–being carried out by leaks from various people in this town–but within this government and from other governments.”

ADMINISTRATION REMINDED OF PROMISE

Senators Frank Church (D. Idaho) and Jacob Javits (R. NY) the chairman and ranking minority member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Richard Stone (D.Fla.), chairman of the committee’s Middle East subcommittee, criticized the Carter Administration.

They referred to commitments made by the Administration two years ago when the Senate declined to reject the Administration’s package deal that included the F-15s for Saudi Arabia.

Church said that the Administration had promised, in 1978, not to supply supplementary equipment to increase the range of the F-15s not their destructive capabilities. The Saudis reportedly are requesting additional fuel tanks, bomb racks and missiles. Church said that providing the Saudis with this equipment would be a violation of the Administration’s promise.

Stone also referred to the assurances of 1978 and Javits said that “one of the primary conditions” for the sale in 1978 was that the planes “would not be equipped for offensive warfare or for use against Israel.”

EVRON: ISRAEL ULTIMATE TARGET

Evron was reported to have expressed to the State Department yesterday Israel’s opposition to the sale because, he said, Israel would be the Ultimate target for such equipment and the balance of power in the Middle East would be endangered.

Evron also was said to have reminded the State Department that two years ago the Administration had said, in asking for approval of the sale of the warplanes, that it would help make Saudi Arabia more “moderate” and join the peace effort but that Saudi Arabia has not only joined the rejectionist front but has exacerbated tensions in the Middle East.

Observers here were puzzled by two developments in this situation. One is that the State Department was going out on a limb to accuse others of leaks when it itself is what one observer said “a master at knifing Israel by background comments by anonymous officials.”

The other was why the Saudis are pressing at this time to test the Carter Administration’s friendship when it is aware that President Carter is having sufficient domestic political problems in this Presidential election year without having a test such as the Saudis are posing for him.

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