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Begin: U.s.-israel Strategic Cooperation Does Not Depend on Congress Approving Awacs Sale

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Premier Menachem Begin stressed today that the strategic cooperation between the U.S. and Israel worked out during his meetings with President Reagan last week does not depend on whether the sale of AWACS reconnaissance planes to Saudi Arabia is approved by Congress.

(Addressing Jewish leaders in New York last night, Begin spoke of a “new era” in Israeli-American relations. See story by Yitzhak Rabi, P. 3.)

Appearing on the NBC-TV “Meet the Press” program, Begin said he had read newspaper accounts of a statement by an unnamed Pentagon official last Friday that strategic cooperation would be “jeopardized” if the AWACS sale is blocked by Congress. “That official didn’t know exactly what he was talking about,” Begin said. He said that in his talks with Reagan, Secretary of State Alexander Haig and Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, he “never heard even an allusion about such a possibility.”

Begin refused to go into details of what the new agreement will include. He said that would be worked out when Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, who met with Weinberger last Friday, returns to Washington in November. He said he hoped that by then, a written memo will be worked out between the two defense officials, something the Reagan Administration has apparently refused to give Israel up to now.

Begin did say that stockpiling of U.S. weapons in Israel may be one of the items under the new arrangement. Others, listed by Haig last week, included joint exercises, probably naval; strategic planning to meet threats from outside the Middle East; and stockpiling, probably of medical supplies.

Begin said he didn’t know if Haig was correct when he told Saudi Arabian Prince Fahd in Spain yesterday that the Secretary expected the AWACS sale to go through. “We shall see when the vote is taken,” Begin said. He denied strongly that he had been “lobbying” against the sale while in Washington.

ISRAEL ENDANGERED BY ‘DOUBLE DEAL’

He said he presented the Israeli “case” to Reagan and his advisors that what he called the “double deal” would be a “grave danger” to Israel. By double deal, Begin explained, he meant not only the AWACS were a danger to Israel but so is the other major part of the proposed $8.5 billion sale of “offensive” enhancement equipment for the 62 F-15 fighter-bombers bought from the U.S. by the Saudis.

Begin said he gave the same views to the members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee who, he stressed, had invited him to meet with them while he was in Washington. But, he said, the issue is a “problem to be decided upon” and he had only expressed “my opinion” on the dangers the sale presented to Israel.

PACKWOOD REJECTS REAGAN’S REQUEST

Both houses of Congress must reject the sale by the end of October if it is to be blocked. The Administration is concentrating the fight in the Senate where it believes the Republican majority will prevent a veto. But Sen. Bob Packwood (R. Ore.), who is leading the fight against the sale in the Senate, said after a 45-minute meeting with Reagan Friday that he turned down the President’s request to stop gathering sponsors for his resolution of rejection until the Administration makes its arguments directly to Congress.

Packwood said he has 45 names on his resolution, just six short of a majority. Rep. Clarence Long (D. Md.), who is leading the opposition to the sale in the House, said he has 253 co-sponsors to his resolution, 34 more than needed. But meanwhile, Sen. John Tower (R. Tex.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and Sen. John Stennis (D. Miss.), the ranking minority member on the committee, have sent their Senate colleagues a letter urging them to support the sale.

Sen. John Warner (R. Va.), another member-of the Armed Services Committee, said Friday that he believed the fight in the Senate over the AWACS sale will be the toughest since the Panama Canal Treaty.

BASIS FOR CONTINUATION OF PEACE

On ether matters in his TV appearance, Begin rejected the assertion that continuation of the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty depended upon President Anwar Sadat staying in power. “I don’t think that an international agreement depends on anybody,” Begin said. “What we (he and Sadat) used to say to each other was we are mortals, our nations are eternal.” The Premier also rejected the idea that Sadat could “disappear” soon from the Egyptian scene. He said he believed the Egyptian President had the overwhelming support of his people.

Begin conceded that Sadat has had to take “harsh” measures but said Israel “understands his problem” which, Begin noted, was caused by the spread of Islamic fundamentalism by the Khomeini regime in Iran. “He (Sadat) wants peace and so do I,” Begin said. He said he hoped the “cessation of hostilities” along the Israeli-Lebanese border continues “indefinitely.” But he claimed the Palestine Liberation Organization is continuing to increase its armaments in south Lebanon. He also noted an increase in terrorist activities such as yesterday’s grenade attack in the Old City of Jerusalem in which one person was killed and 28 were wounded. He said he didn’t know how long this situation could continue.

REAGAN GIVES ASSURANCE ON PLO

Begin stressed that when President Reagan first sent his special envoy, Philip Habib to the Middle East last May, the President and Habib pledged they would work for the removal of Syrian anti-aircraft missiles from Lebanon. Begin said he still wanted this done although Habib did not tell him, when they met in Washington lost week, when he was returning to the Middle East.

The Premier also said that Reagan last week “gave full assurance” that the U.S. will not have any contact with the PLO until it meets the conditions set by the U.S. Those conditions are recognition of Israel’s right to exist and acceptance of Security Council Resolution 242. Begin said the conditions haven’t been changed.

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