Washington (Jul. 28)
Secretary of State Alexander Haig said today that the Reagan Administration is confident that Congress will approve its proposed sale of five AWACS reconnaissance aircraft to Saudi Arabia. But it still has not decided when to notify Congress officially of the arms package deal which includes enhancement equipment for the 62 F-15 fighter bombers the Saudis purchased earlier from the U.S., he said.
Haig made his remarks in denying that delay of the AWACS sale had anything to do with the resignation of the U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Robert Neumann, which was announced today. Haig said Neumann quit for “personal reasons.” But sources here said Haig forced his resignation because the 65-year-old envoy was critical of the slow pace at which the Administration was proceeding with the AWACS sale.
Israel and its supporters in Congress are vigorously opposed to the AWACS package deal and there are believed to be sufficient votes in both houses to reject it at this time. According to sources, Neumann had been urging the Administration to act immediately to push the sale through on grounds that the Saudis needed the sophisticated surveillance equipment to protect them from surprise attack by Israel.
The Administration position has been that the Saudis need the planes for protection against Soviet designs. It has avoided a confrontation with Congress since the proposed sale was announced earlier this year.
ENVOY SUPPORTED PALESTINIAN CAUSE
Neumann, a political scientist who served as Ambassador to Afghanistan during the Johnson Administration and to Morocco in the Nixon Administration, was also reported to have criticized the Administration for not taking a firmer position toward Israel after its June 7 attack on Iraq’s nuclear reactor.
Neumann was born in Vienna of Jewish parents but converted to Catholicism at the age of 17. As vice chairman of Georgetown University’s Center for Strategic and International Studies, he has been a strong supporter of the Palestinian cause and an advocate of U.S. negotiations with the Palestine Liberation Organization. He headed the Administration’s foreign policy transition team before President Reagan’s inauguration last January.
His tenure as Ambassador to Saudi Arabia was brief. He presented his credentials in Riyadh during the last week of May. Haig’s assertion that he resigned for personal reasons was given some credence by reports that Neumann’s wife is ill and cannot live abroad.
The White House said today that Neumann would become a full time consultant at the State Department. It also announced that Reagan will nominate Richard Murphy to succeed him as Ambassador to Saudi Arabia. Murphy, currently U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines and a former Ambassador to Syria, is a career diplomat.