Washington (Sep. 17)
Secretary of State Alexander Haig rejected today a compromise proposal by Sen. John Glenn (D. Ohio) that the U.S. and Saudi Arabia share “joint” ownership and control of the five AWACS reconnaissance planes the Reagan Administration proposes to sell to the Saudis.
(Sen. Bob Packwood of Oregon announced this afternoon that he is introducing a resolution with names of 51 Senators to reject the AWACS sale. See story P.2.)
Haig, testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the $8.5 billion arms package which includes the AWACS, Sidewinder missiles and enhancement equipment for Saudi Arabia’s 62 F-15 fighter-bombers, was worked out after long negotiations by both the Carter and Reagan Administrations and represents “the optimum arrangement.”
Expressing confidence that the Senate will not reject the proposal, Haig said he believed the secret transfer arrangements worked out will meet the concerns of the Senators. He said Administration officials will be discussing these proposals privately with each Senator.
WARNS AGAINST KILLING AWACS SALE
But Haig warned the committee that what is at “stake” in the Senate’s vote on the proposal is “this nation’s capability to develop a strategy” that will advance Middle East peace and meet the threats to the region from the Soviet Union and its surrogates. He warned the Senators against rejecting the foreign policy of “an American President.”
Haig’s appearance before the committee was on the Middle East situation in general but his prepared statement and the questions put to him by the Senators dealt mainly with the AWACS issue. Sen. Charles Percy (R. III.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said a hearing devoted specially to the Administration’s arms sale package would be scheduled for later this month. Meanwhile, the Senators will be able to inspect an AWACS aircraft at Andrews Air Force Base near Washington next Monday through Wednesday.
CITES POSSIBLE ‘DIPLOMATIC DUNKIRK’
Glenn told Haig that if he approved the compromise the Ohio legislator suggested, “I think you can sell this on the Senate floor in 10 minutes.” He also said he believes Israel would be satisfied with such a compromise. Sen. Rudy Boschwitz (R. Minn.) agreed with Glenn on that. But Glenn warned that if the Administration proceeds with the sale as now proposed, it risks a “diplomatic Dunkirk.” He said this would harm chances for peace in the Middle East because he believes the Saudis can help advance the peace process.
When Sen. Larry Pressler (R. SD.) asked if the Administration would change its proposal if it saw that it would be defeated in the Senate, he was told by Haig, “That’s not a bridge we anticipate we’ll have to cross.”
Glenn told reporters later that he believes the Administration will consider his compromise inasmuch as there are already some 40 votes in the chamber against the proposed sale. Glenn told Haig, during the hearing, that he opposed selling AWACS to any other country, including America’s NATO allies.
He also said the AWACS that would be sold to the Saudis are “down-rated” and could easily be jammed. He said that in urging joint control of the surveillance aircraft, he would also propose that the U.S. cut their price to the Saudis by half.
BEST POSSIBLE SOLUTION
Glenn said he wanted to keep the AWACS under American control to quickly meet any threat to the region. He maintained, however, that the best possible solution would be to continue the four AWACS now in Saudi Arabia under American ownership and control. He said he would agree to keep them there for at least 10 years with the U.S. picking up the entire cost.
Haig said the U.S. now has the means to meet any outside threat to the region. He said the AWACS were not being sold to the Saudis to protect them from the Soviet Union but from regional dangers such as surrogates of the Soviets, a Khomeini-like Islamic fundamentalist movement or the new tripartite entente agreed to by South Yemen, Ethiopia and Libya.
CITES DANGER FROM PALESTINIANS
Sen. John Biden (D. Del.) said the real threat to Saudi Arabia is from Palestinian oil workers who could blow up the oil fields. He said these Palestinians could force the Saudis to participate in any future Middle East war using AWACS and F-15s. Biden also noted that Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon told the committee last week that “as soon as these planes fly we will shoot them down.”
Haig insisted there was no Palestinian threat to the Saudis but on the contrary, the Saudis had influence with the Palestinians. He repeatedly cited the help Saudi Arabia rendered in arranging the cease-fire in Lebanon and indicated that the Saudis would be helpful in the Middle East peace process. He observed that Saudi Arabia already has been helpful in the new U.S.-Pakistani arms agreement.
Haig rejected a suggestion by Sen. Richard Lugar (D. Ind.) that instead of selling arms to Saudi Arabia the U.S. increase its military bases in the Middle East. The Secretary of State noted that this was no longer possible because of the desire of the nations in that region to protect their own national independence.
He said that just as Israeli Premier Menachem Begin stressed here last week that Israel wanted to defend itself and not depend on foreign troops, so did Saudi Arabia and Egypt as well.
ISSUES IN HAIG-BEGIN MEETING
Haig said that the Palestinian issue was discussed with Begin when they had a 2 ?? hour meeting last Friday. He said that President Reagan also raised the Palestinian issue with Begin in their talks and it was agreed that Begin would discuss it in detail with Haig at their Friday meeting. According to most accounts of Begin’s meetings with Reagan, very little was said on
the Palestinians. Haig said he discussed with Begin the situation on the West Bank and Israeli settlements there. He said he pointed out to Begin that the settlements “complicate” the peace process. Haig and Begin had an unscheduled meeting Tuesday just as the Premier was about to leave New York to return to Israel. But both have refused to divulge the contents of that closed-door meeting.
In the course of today’s hearings Haig said virtually nothing about the new “strategic cooperation” worked out between the U.S. and Israel during Begin’s visit.