Washington (Jul. 21)
President Reagan has put on the back burner any decision on when to resume shipping F-16 jet fighter bombers to Israel, at least until the violence across the Israeli-Lebanese border is ended. This became clear today when State Department deputy spokesman Alan Romburg said here that the U.S. has no “preconditions” for resuming the shipment.
The President announced from Ottawa yesterday where he was attending the economic summit that he is delaying the shipment of six F-16s which were scheduled to fly to Israel today as well as the four F-16s whose delivery was suspended after Israel destroyed Iraq’s nuclear plant June 7.
Romburg said that Secretary of State Alexander Haig, in announcing the President’s decision last night, made clear that in “the context of the escalating cycle of violence” it was deemed “inappropriate” to go ahead with the F-16s deliveries. However, the decision does not affect the delivery of any other arms to Israel.
Reagan was expected to announce his decision on all 10 F-16s last Friday but put it off after the Israeli raid on the terrorist headquarters in Beirut. However, Romburg said today that the President’s decision does not “cast blame” on Israel or take sides. The decision “is not sending a message or casting any particular responsibility on Israel,” the spokesman said.
WAITING TO SEE WHAT UN DOES
In that context, Romburg said that the U.S. would have to wait and see what, if any, resolution was presented to the United Nations Security Council on the situation in Lebanon before deciding on a position. “We would oppose any call for sanctions against Israel or an unbalanced resolution that sought to single out only one side,” Romburg said.
He said the U.S. is looking for a cease-fire across the Israeli-Lebanese border and “ultimately a more permanent resolution of the problem.” He noted that U.S. special envoy Philip Habib is in Jerusalem today seeking Israeli agreement to a cease-fire.
Romburg said other parties that have contacts with the Palestine Liberation Organization are seeking to persuade the terrorist group to end the shelling of northern Israel. He said that these parties are undertaking this task without necessarily being asked to do so by the U.S.
He refused to name any of these parties although a State Department source identified one of them as United Nations Secretary General Kurt Waldheim. Romberg reiterated the U.S. position that the U.S. will not negotiate or have any other contacts with the PLO until the PLO recognizes Israel’s right to exist and accepts UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.
STATEMENT ISSUED AT THE SUMMIT CONFERENCE
Romburg denied that Reagan’s decision was made in return for support by the other six participants at the economic summit for positions the Reagan Administration sought. He said the decision was made after Reagan met with his own advisors in Ottawa. The U.S. did, however, go along with a statement issued at the summit and read by Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau of Canada, the host of the conference. It said, in part:
“We are deeply distressed by the scale of destruction, particularly in Lebanon, and the heavy civilian loss of life on both sides. We call on all states and parties to exercise restraint and in particular to avoid retaliation which only results in escalation and to forego acts which could lead in the current tense situation in the area to further bloodshed and war.
“We are particularly concerned in this respect by the tragic fate of the Lebanese people. We support the efforts now in progress to permit Lebanon to achieve a genuine national reconciliation, internal security and peace with its neighbors.”
White House Counselor Edwin Meese III said in Ottawa yesterday “The President doesn’t want to do anything about the timing of his decision that will interfere with obtaining a cease-fire.” His decision to continue the F-16s embargo appears to have been supported by top Administration officials, including Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger and Vice President George Bush with whom Reagan was in telephone contact.
Apparently it was also the consensus of Haig, Meese and National Security Advisor Richard Allen. A suspension of arms deliveries to Israel was advocated yesterday by Sen. Charles Percy (R. III.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and by several other prominent Republican Senators.
FUTURE SHIPMENTS CLASSIFIED
Meanwhile, Romburg said the Administration hoped to make a decision on the F-16s before any other shipment of the planes was scheduled. Israel has received 53 of the 75 F-16s ordered in 1978. Romburg said he had been told that the dates for the future shipments to Israel had been classified.
But the Pentagon, earlier today, told reporters that the final 12 planes in the order were scheduled to be shipped out in batches of four each in mid-August, mid-September and mid-October.