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U.S. Reiterates That Israel is an ‘ally’ but Does Not Indicate Whether It Will Seek to Formalize All

The Reagan Administration reiterated today that the U.S. considers Israel an “ally” although it did not indicate whether it would seek to formalize the alliance during Premier Menachem Begin’s visit here this week. (See related story P.2.)

Begin, who arrived in Washington today for talks with President Reagan tomorrow and Thursday, has long advocated such an alliance with the U.S. but no American government has offered one, presumably for fear of Arab reaction.

The Administration’s declaration was made today by State Department spokesman Dean Fischer who

noted that it was a position “made clear on a number of occasions” by this Administration. “We are firmly committed to the security of Israel and will ensure that Israel maintains a defensive capacity adequate to its needs,” Fischer said reading from a prepared statement.

“The President has made it clear that we regard Israel as an ally. While we do not have a formal military alliance with Israel, we consider a strong Israel and the maintenance of the regional balance of forces to be in our strategic interest,” he said.

Secretary of State Alexander Haig, in an interview with the New York Times over the weekend, said the U.S. wanted to put “meat on the bones” of the strategic relationship with Israel. But Haig was not specific and Fischer said he could not say how the enhancement of the strategic relationship would be discussed during Begin’s talks with Reagan and other members of the Administration.

There have been reports that the U.S. plans to provide Israel with $600 million in additional military credits for the 1983 and 1984 fiscal years. Also reported is that Israel would either be given a U.S. spy satellite or time on a U.S. satellite, but Administration officials over the weekend seemed to steer reporters away from this proposal.

THE ISSUE OF THE AWACS

Fischer denied today that the U.S. was discussing enhancement of the strategic relationship as an effort to mute Israel’s opposition to the Administration’s proposed sale to Saudi Arabia of five AWACS reconnaissance planes and other sophisticated military equipment. Congress will begin discussing the proposed sale after it returns from summer recess tomorrow.

Fischer said justification for the AWACS sale “stands on its merits.” He said the U.S. would be discussing the strategic relationship with Israel whether or not there was an AWACS proposal before Congress.

“This Administration and the Israel government have a quite common perception about the threat to regional peace and stability arising from either the Soviet Union or from other groups which may be acting in the Soviets’ interest,” he said. Fischer stressed that the Administration has no objection to Begin publicly opposing the AWACS sale as he said yesterday he would do.

There had been reports from Administration sources over the last few weeks that Begin would harm his relationship with Reagan, who he will be meeting for the first time tomorrow, if he made a public issue of the AWACS sale. If the AWACS issue comes up, Fischer said, “we will set forth the reasons for our decision to proceed with the AWACS proposal and then try to address as best we can the concerns that are expressed … by the Israelis.”

SAYS SAUDI, IRANIAN SITUATIONS DIFFER

Fischer rejected concerns in Congress that in view of the Iranian experience, providing the Saudis with AWACS would jeopardize the security of highly advanced American weapons which could fall into unfriendly hands if the Saudi regime were to be overthrown. “The situations are entirely different,” he said, asserting that the U.S. has “every confidence in the royal family” which rules Saudi Arabia.

Begin’s visit follows the visit here last month of President Anwar Sadat of Egypt. Fischer said today that Sadat’s arrest of opponents in Egypt are entirely “an internal matter” of Egypt. But he noted that Sadat promised that all those arrested would go through the judicial process.

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