Washington (Sep. 20)
Secretary of State Alexander Haig warned today that if Congress vetoes the proposed $8.5 billion sale of AWACS surveillance planes and other sophisticated military equipment to Saudi Arabia it could “jeopardize” the efforts for progress toward peace in the Middle East.
“The participation, good will of Saudi Arabia in the peace-keeping process from this point on is an absolute essential for success,” Haig said in an interview on the ABC-TV “Issues and Answers” program. He stressed the help Saudi Arabia had given the U.S. during the crisis in Lebanon earlier this year. “If this sale were to fall through,” he said, “such cooperation would be jeopardized.”
Haig said that was why he had warned earlier this month that a defeat of the AWACS package sale would cause the U.S. to reassess its Middle East strategy. But he made it clear that his intention was not to threaten that a defeat would affect the new strategic cooperation agreement with Israel.
CITES U.S. ‘BROADER’ RESPONSIBILITIES
Haig denied that the Reagan Administration was angered by Israeli Premier Menachem Begin’s “lobbying” aginst the sale to the Saudis. He said the Administration understood Israel’s “concerns” and believed Israeli leaders had the right and “obligation” to voice such concerns at home and abroad. But, he added, the U.S. has “broader” responsibilities and “concerns than the government of Israel.”
The Secretary of State again rejected the compromise proposal suggested by Sen. John Glenn (D. Ohio) last Thursday that the agreement be changed to include joint ownership and command of the five AWACS the U.S. wants to sell to the Saudis. Glenn, who made the suggestion during Haig’s testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he could not support the sale of AWACS to any country, including America’s NATO allies.
Haig said that Senators like Glenn could “sit on the side” and make suggestions which, like Glenn’s, might even be preferable to the present arrangement. But he stressed that the sales package was concluded after “extensive negotiations” by both the Carter and Reagan Administrations. He said the Saudis could not agree to joint ownership “without a serious blow to their sovereignty and national pride.”
Glenn was not one of the 50 Senators — 18 Republicans and 32 Democrats — who co-signed the resolution introduced by Sen. Bob Packwood (R. Ore.) last Thursday to reject the sale. He said he did not sign because the Packwood resolution not only vetoed the AWACS but the entire $8.5 billion package that includes enhancement equipment for the 62 F-15 jet fighters previously bought by the Saudis and tanker planes for in-air refueling.
Haig said he did not believe that because Packwood had 50 names, half the Senate, it meant that the sale would be rejected when the vote actually took place. He said the list is “replete with soft spots” and several Senators have already told him they were open to changing their minds. He would not name them.
CITES FOUR AREAS OF AGREEMENT
The list originally had 51 names but one Senator, S. I. Hayakawa (R. Calif.) said his name was on it by mistake, although he was leaning toward opposition to the sale. Haig said today he believed the secret agreements included in the sale would meet the concerns of many of the Senators. Haig said last Thursday that these agreements covered four areas:
“Clear limitation on the transfer” of the equipment and data collected by the AWACS to a third party; U.S. access to this intelligence information; physical security of the equipment and technology; and limitations on the geographic area where the Saudis could operate the planes.
Teams from the White House, the State Department and the Defense Department are briefing each Senator individually on these terms. Haig said today that 18 Senators already have been briefed and he hoped the number will reach 50 by the end of the month. He said he hoped Congress would vote on the sale as soon as possible.
While Haig and other Administration officials have expressed confidence that the Administration will defeat any move to veto the sale, Packwood and Sen. Henry Jackson (D. Wash.) noted last week that at least six more Senators plan to vote against the sale but had not signed Packwood’s resolution. Packwood and Jackson said they did not believe the Administration could turn around that many votes.