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68 Senators Urge Carter to Reject Saudi Request for Improving F-15s

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President Carter was urged today by more than two-thirds of the members of the Senate to turn down, Saudi Arabia’s request for increases in the range and offensive capabilities of the 60 F-15 warplanes it has purchased for delivery starting next month.

A letter signed by 68 Senators from 42 States pointed to Defense Secretary Harold Brown’s assurances in writing to the Congress in 1978 when the Saudi order for the interceptors was being approved despite strong protests that Israel would be menaced by the aircraft that would upset the Arab-Israeli power balance.

At that time Brown wrote: “Saudi Arabia has not requested nor do we intend to sell any other systems or armaments that could increase range or enhance the ground attack capability of the F-15.”

BASIS FOR OPPOSITION

In registering their opposition to the Saudis’ requested improvements, the Senators wrote the President, “We feel the sale of additional military equipment which would increase the range or other wise enhance the capability of the F-15s sold to Saudi Arabia would not be consistent with the above (Brown’s) assurances and undertakings given to the U.S. Congress. We therefore urge you to reject any such request by Saudi Arabia for the sale of additional weapons and equipment as reported in the press.”

The Saudis reportedly had asked to buy special fuel tanks, airborne radar systems, aerial refueling equipment, extra bomb racks and missiles. These improvements would extend the range of the F-15s from 450 to 1000 miles, thus putting the aircraft within striking distance of any part of Israel.

Senate sources told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency the letter of protest originated with a “dear colleague” missive started by Sens. Jacob Javits (R.NY), Frank Church (D. Idaho) and Richard Stone (D.Flo.), but quickly grew to 14 signers and then to 68 members before delivery to the President. Senate Minority Leader Howard Baker (R. Tenn.), who approved the sale to the Saudis in 1978, was among the 29 of 41 Republican Senators who signed the letter and spoke out against the sale in the Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd (D.W.Va.) was not among the 39 Democrats of the 51 in the Senate who joined in the written protest. Byrd also spoke out in the Senate against the sale, but according to Senate sources, he declined to sign the letter because it did not suggest possible approval of the request could come at a later date.

The first Republican to sign the letter after Javits was Indiana Senator Richard Lugar, who like Baker, is being mentioned as a Republican Vice Presidential candidate.

ADMINISTRATION DECISION PENDING

Meanwhile, the Carter Administration continued to indicate that it has not decided whether to send the Saudi request to Congress for approval. In light of the Senators’ letter, it appeared that the request would at least be postponed until after the new Congress meets in January.

At the State Department, chief spokesman John Trattner said today the Administration views the Saudi request in its “long standing supply relationship.” He said he did not believe “the Saudis have been pressing for a deadline for a decision.” Trattner said the Department “will continue to study the request” and “no decision is imminent.”

The Saudis “understand,” he said that “any future decision will be preceded by consultations with the Congress.”

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