Washington (Jan. 13)
– Present personnel of the State Department’s Middle East Bureau, headed by Assistant Secretary of State Harold Saunders, will continue to formulate U.S. policy in affairs concerning the area from Morocco to India including the Arab-Israeli dispute after the Reagan Administration takes office, it was indicated here today.
Secretary of State-designate Alexander Haig reportedly has selected most of his senior aides and while Saunders is apparently not one of them, neither has Haig indicated his replacement. “The simple reason may be that Haig has not yet settled on Saunders’ successor,” a knowledgable State Department source told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
Saunders, 50, and well known as “even-handed” on Arab-Israeli affairs, has been Assistant Secretary since April, 1978. He succeeded Alfred Atherton, presently the U.S. Ambassador in Cairo. He was promoted from Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Middle East to Assistant Secretary for Research and Development in 1975 by then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
In the latter post, he set forth before Congress a shift in U.S. policy toward Palestinian Arabs and their “legitimate rights.” Kissinger dismissed it as academic. However, the tilt toward Arab perceptions of a possible solution to the Arab-Israeli impasse continued to prevail. Saunders’ presentation to Congress appears in retrospect to be considered U.S. policy approved by the Ford Administration and not altered by the Carter Administration.
George Sherman, the chief information officer of the State Department on Middle East affairs, has been designated U.S. Consul General in Calcutta but is not expected to take up that post until late spring at the earliest. Sherman, a former diplomatic correspondent of the Washington Star, has been closely associated with Saunders and other top officials at both the State Department and the White House and has travelled with Secretaries of State on Middle East journeys.
HAIG: WOULD HAVE FAVORED PLANES TO SAUDI
Meanwhile, Haig’s confirmation hearings proceeded before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today with the principal emphasis still on his association with the Nixon White House. However, in response to Senators’ questions yesterday, Haig said that if he had been in authority in 1978 he would have favored the sale of 60 F-15 fighter planes to Saudi Arabia.
That transfer was presented to Congress by the Carter Administration as a package deal that included the provision of military equipment for Israel and Egypt. It was seen at the time as an Administration maneuver to avert probable rejection by Congress of the aircraft for Saudi Arabia if they had been presented separately.
In other response yesterday, Haig said that the U.S. should attempt to “develop a consensus” with Western Europe and Japan about protection of Persian Gulf oil “but must be prepared to act even unilaterally to secure our access to those vital resources.” He said he favored continuing and expanding the Carter Admininstration’s recent efforts to develop an American military presence near the Persian Gulf but would not indicate specific sites for U.S. forces.