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Leading Congressmen Warn Reagan to Cancel Sale of Weapons to Saudis or Face ‘humiliating Defeat’

President Reagan was urged by leading members of the Senate and House today to withdraw his Administration’s proposed arms package sale to Saudi Arabia or risk “a humiliating defeat” and the danger of dividing the nation.

Sen. Bob Packwood (R. Ore.) told a press conference at the Capitol this morning that 54 Senators, a majority of the Senate, have signed his letter to the President, urging him not to sell the five AWACS reconnaissance aircraft, enhancement equipment for F-15 fighter and other items in the proposed package for Saudi Arabia.

“It is our deep belief that this sale is not in the best interest of the United States, and therefore recommend that you refrain from sending this proposal to Congress,” the letter said.

At a press conference a short while later in a House office building, Reps. Clarence Long (D. Md.) and Norman Lent (R. NY) said their resolution of disapproval of the sale has 224 supporters, a majority of the House. Long added that at least 75 others have told him and Lent that they would support the resolution but did not want to sign the item now to avoid pressure from the White House. Pressure from the White House is expected to begin soon since the Administration said last night that it plans to go ahead with the sale.

Once the Administration formally notifies Congress — which it is expected to do some time after the July 4 holiday–it requires a majority vote of both houses to defeat the sale. Packwood said that at least two to four other Senators told him they would sign the letter. He said this was why the President should not even send the sale to Congress to avoid a “divisive debate” that would split both parties, Congress, the nation and the allies of the U.S.

FOES OF SALE CLAIM MAJORITIES

Packwood said his letter was signed by 20 Republicans and 34 Democrats. Long also warned that Reagan risked a “humiliating defeat” and problems with his own party in the 1982 Congressional elections. He said the Long-Lent resolution of disapproval was signed by 54 Republicans and 74 Democrats from 38 states and covered the entire political spectrum.

Lent said he was informed that of the 100 resolutions of disapproval introduced in the House so far, this was the first to have more than 200 cosponsors and it was done before the issue was ever formally presented to Congress.

Packwood noted that his letter to Reagan was signed after Israel’s raid on Iraq’s nuclear plant on June 7 which, he said indicated that the raid had no effect on attitudes toward the AWACS sale.

The letter to Reagan from the Senators said that one of the most important reasons to reject the sale “is the fact that the Saudis have not chosen a constructive role in the Camp David process.” Packwood said that the Saudis have been an “impediment” to efforts to establish peace in the Middle East. He said that when the Senate approved the sale of 62 F-15s to Saudi Arabia in 1978, it was promised that the Saudis would play a moderating role for peace in the Middle East. Instead, Packwood said, the Saudis opposed the Camp David agreements and have boycotted Egypt for signing a peace treaty with Israel.

“Our interest is served by peace in the Middle East,” Packwood said. “Saudi Arabia is not moving in the direction of what is our interest.”

Sen. Henry Jackson (D. Wash.) who, along with Sens. Roger Jepsen (R. Iowa) and Rudy Boschwitz (R. Minn.) joined Packwood at the press conference, said giving the Saudis AWACS would not provide for the regional security which the U.S. wants. He said the U.S. should not provide Saudi Arabia with what “we do not provide our NATO allies.”

FEAR SALE TO AN ‘UNSTABLE REGIME’

Jackson explained that the AWACS used by NATO are under command of Americans even though they may have some foreign staff aboard. He said this also is true of four AWACS the U.S. moved into Saudi Arabia last year because of the Iraqi-Iranian war and which are under complete command of Americans, even though some Saudis are aboard. He said he would prefer this type of situation continue rather than selling AWACS to the Saudis.

Jepsen and Boschwitz said they feared selling AWACS to Saudi Arabia because it was an unstable regime and there was the possibility that this highly sophisticated equipment could fall into Soviet hands. “There are very few issues in which I would break with this Administration on foreign policy,” Jepsen said. But he said the overthrow of the Shah’s regime in Iran had convinced him that it was dangerous to place such sophisticated weapons in the hands of unstable regimes that could be overthrown at any time.

Packwood rejected the argument that if the U.S. did not sell the Saudis the weapons, they could buy them from Britain or France. He said that while that may be true, the Saudis know that if they are in danger only the U.S. would help them and “that is a bargaining chip we give away too early.”

Lent was the only speaker today who dealt directly with the F-15s. He said he informed Reagan that “from its inception, I have regarded the sale of F-15 aircraft to Saudi Arabia as a cave-in to Arab blackmail.” He said “giving those aircraft an awesome new offensive capacity simply worsens the situation.”

Long said that by providing weapons to Saudi Arabia, Israel would seek additional arms to make up for what it considers a new threat to its security. He noted that Israel does not want to concentrate on its defenses rather than its troubled economy but “it feels it has to.”

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