Washington (Oct. 1)
Secretary of State Alexander Haig sought today to reassure Senators opposed to the sale of five AWACS reconnaissance planes to Saudi Arabia by stressing that there will be an American presence on the planes and on the ground well into the 1990s.
Haig gave these assurances in testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, after meeting with them for more than two-and-a-half hours in executive session to explain the arrangements developed with the Saudis and completed only yesterday. U.S. Ambassador Richard Murphy flew to Riyadh Monday to work out new proposals with the Saudis after it became apparent that Congress would reject the entire $8.5 billion arms package for Saudi Arabia.
The Administration gave formal notice to Congress today on the arms package which also includes enhancement equipment for the 62 F-15s previously sold to the Saudis and aerial refueling tankers. Congress now has 30 days in which it can reject the sale if both the Senate and the House adopt resolutions of disapproval. See related story on Pg. 4.
Haig said that the safeguards worked out with the Saudis are “complete data sharing with the U.S. on a continuous basis;” “no sharing of AWACS data with any other parties without U.S. consent;” and “only carefully screened Saudis and U.S. nationals will be permitted to be involved with these aircraft.”
He noted that since there is a shortage of Saudi air crews and technicians, this means there will be an American presence in the aircraft and on the ground well into the 1990s.”
Haig said that other safeguards are that the Saudi AWACS will not operate outside of Saudi airspace and that “there will be extensive and elaborate security measures for safeguarding equipment and technology.”
He said this will include U.S. teams to monitor the performance of all equipment involved with the AWACS; “special facilities for around-the-clock security protection; and all the security protecting arrangements must be approved by the U.S. at least one year before any AWACS are delivered to the Saudis.” Deliveries are expected to start in 1985.
STRESSES U.S. COMMITTMENT TO ISRAEL
“Taken together, this package of safeguards and agreements addresses the fundamental concerns that have been voiced about the sale and also reflect a Saudi willingness to work with us and engage our mutual concerns,” Haig stressed.
He said that what is “at stake is whether the United States will be able to pursue a coherent policy in a region where the Arab-Israel dispute divides our closest friends and where the Soviets and their proxies threaten our vital interest.”
Haig stressed that the U.S. “is fundamentally and unalterably committed to the security of Israel. A strong Israel is required by our interests and our hopes of peace and security in the Middle East.” He said the Reagan Administration is “determined to take steps to minimize any adverse impact of the sale (to the Saudis) and to maintain the qualitative edge upon which Israel depends.”
“President Reagan would not have authorized this sale if he believed it would jeopardize Israel’s security,” Haig said.
“On the contrary,” Haig said, “We believe that the risks to Israel are greater if U.S.-Saudi cooperation is disrupted and Saudi Arabia is left insecure or forced to turn elsewhere for equipment.”
Haig’s comments were contained in a statement handed to the press before he went before the closed session of the Senate committee.