Washington (Aug. 2)
The Reagan Administration appears to be basing its argument for the proposed sale of AWACS reconnaissance planes to Saudi Arabia on assurances to Congress that the intelligence information forwarded from the planes to the ground will be controlled by the United States.
This was indicated today by Senate Majority leader Howard Baker (R. Tenn.) and Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger in separate television appearances in which they also indicated Israel would also benefit from the intelligence information.
“The actual crewing of the planes is not nearly as important as the staffing on the ground,” Baker said on CBS-TV’s “Face the Nation.” He said that the crew on the plane does not really know what information is being sent back to the base. He said what is important is “what access does the U.S. have or do the Israelis have.”
Weinberger, appearing on ABC-TV’s “Issues and Answers,” said that the Administration is working out details on the use of intelligence picked up by the AWACS. However, he stressed that the five AWACS are being sold outright to the Saudis. But he said this is being done not only to help the Saudis to prevent attacks on their oilwell, but also in the overall interests of the Middle East, “specifically including the United States, specifically including Israel.”
STILL SEVERAL MONTHS AWAY
Both Weinberger and Baker said the Administration would begin the informal notification to Congress on the proposed sale after Congress returns from its summer recess in September as the State Department had announced last week.
This would mean, according to Baker, that the final 30 day formal notification period would end in October or November. The proposed sale would also include enhancement material for the 62 F-16s previously bought by the Saudis and other sophisticated military hardware would go through automatically unless both houses of Congress adopt resolutions to reject it.
Baker, who convinced the Administration last spring to postpone the notification because of strong opposition in Congress to the sale, predicted today that it still will be “a difficult fight.” He noted that Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, who arrives in Washington Tuesday night for two days of talks with President Reagan, others member of the Administration and members of Congress, supports the AWACS sale and “urges it should be done and done promptly,” with safeguards to ensure Israel.
FUNDAMENTAL SUPPORT FOR ISRAEL
Baker said that the criticism of Premier Menachem Begin for his decisions to bomb the Iraqi nuclear reactor and terrorist headquarters may “complicate” the issue but has not “affected the fundamental support for Israel that exists in this country.” He said “there is an enormous reservoir of support and respect for Israel” in Congress, including “concern” for its security.
On other issues, Weinberger said that the Administration still has not decided whether to resume shipment to Israel of 10 F-16s. State Department spokesman Dean Fischer indicated last Friday that this decision will be made by August 10, the date when four more F-16s are scheduled to be flown to Israel. Coincidentally, Aug. 10 is the day after Sadat leaves the United States.
NO MOVEMENT ON THE F-16S
Weinberger implied today that the decision will also include the first two of the 15 F-15s which Israel has ordered. This delivery is also scheduled for the middle of August. He stressed that the U.S. policy in the Middle East is based on what best serves that area which he said included peace and prevention of Soviet expansion.
Fischer said last Friday that the President’s decision is to take into consideration “the overall climate in the Middle East” and the “level of violence.” Reagan postponed indefinitely the delivery of the 10 F-16s after Israel’s raid on terrorist headquarters in Beirut July 17, when many civilians were killed.
Secretary of State Alexander Haig said at the time it would be “inappropriate” to send such weapons to the area while violence was going on there. After the cease-fire went into effect July 24 Haig indicated that the U.S. would hold up deliveries while it waits to see if the cease-fire holds.