Washington (Sep. 23)
Four former United States Ambassadors to Saudi Arabia charged yesterday that Israel does not oppose the sale of five AWACS surveillance planes to Saudi Arabia because it threatens the Jewish State, but because Israel wants “to disrupt relations between the United States and this most important Arab country.”
The four — Robert Neumann, John West, James Akins and Parker Hart — in a statement at a press conference at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, also declared that “the sale must proceed” because “the promises and credibility” of President Reagan and former President Carter “and the country are at stake.”
The former four Ambassadors maintained they had called the press conference at their “own initiative.” They denied they were acting at the behest of the White House or the State Department.
But their move came as the Reagan Administration appeared to be growing more concerned that the AWACS sale will be vetoed by the Republican-controlled Senate. Senate Majority leader Howard Baker (R. Tenn.) conceded today that there are enough votes in the Senate to reject the sale, although he believed that some minds could be changed. Reports are that the vote now is 63-12 against the sale, well over the 51-vote majority needed.
RATIONALE FOR SALE OF AWACS
In their prepared statement in which the four former Ambassadors said they had agreed upon, the former diplomats said they find the AWACS system “uniquely adapted to the defense to the oilfields of eastern Arabia. We see no way that the AWACS would be a danger to Israel unless Israel actually were to launch an airborne attack on the Arabian oilfields or oil installations.”
The four saw three consequences if the sale was rejected. The first, they claimed, would be a Saudi interpretation of Congress “yielding to pressure from Israel.” They said the Saudis would also review their oil policy which they said has “been immensely beneficial to the United States and the entire oil consuming world.” They also predicted “a considerable scaling down of American military and economic presence in Saudi Arabia at immense cost to our economy.”
When it was suggested that they were talking about “economic blackmail,” Neumann denied this. But he said “the U.S. and West Europe needed” Saudi oil and the jobs provided by investment in Saudi Arabia. Hart said that if the sale was rejected there would be a gradual “disintegration” of the American presence in Saudi Arabia as well as U.S. investments there.
The four strongly denied they had any economic interests in Saudi Arabia. Akins and Hart are consultants in international affairs. Neumann is a senior associate at Georgetown University’s Center for Strategic Studies, and West is on the Board of Directors of the Southern Center for International Studies in Atlanta, Ga.
CHARGES BEGIN IS CYNICAL
At the press conference, Akins charged that Premier Menachem Begin of Israel was being “cynical” in his opposition to the AWACS sale. “If the deal goes through then he (Begin) can extract much greater aid from the United States, military aid and economic aid,” Akins claimed. He said that if the deal is blocked, Begin will have demonstrated his “invulnerability.” He did not explain whether he meant this in the area of domestic politics or foreign relations. Begin “is in a no-lose situation,” Akins asserted.
Akins also charged that Israel was “not at all serious” in arguing that the AWACS threatened its security because it knew that Americans will have to fly these planes for their full life and American technicians will have to be in Saudi Arabia for the full life of the planes.
Neumann, who was Ambassador to Saudi Arabia for several weeks until he was fired by Secretary of State Alexander Haig in July, also said that Americans would have to be at least part of the flying crews of the AWACS planes and all of the ground crew at least till the end of the century.
Hart, who was envoy to Riyadh in 1961-65 and said his experience in Saudi Arabia goes back to 1944, rejected the claim that the Saudi Regime can be toppled as happened to the Shah in Iran. He said there is no “alternative” to the ruling family in Saudi Arabia.