Washington (Oct. 5)
Two experts on the Middle East differed sharply today over whether the proposed sale of AWACS reconnaissance aircraft and other advanced weaponry to Saudi Arabia will increase stability in the region.
Harold Saunders, Assistant Secretary of State for Near East and South Asian Affairs in the Carter Administration, and Robert Tucker, a professor of political science at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee which will complete its hearings on the $8.5 billion arms package deal this week.
Both the Senate committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee are expected to vote to disapprove the sale this week. The full Senate and House will vote later to reject or uphold the arms deal.
Saunders stressed to the committee that the “U.S. must develop the best possible relationship” with all states in the area. He said the U.S. has to be an arms supplier to the countries of the region in order to have a voice in bringing about arms control in the area.
He said that by not selling the AWACS to the Saudis it would confirm the view of Arabs that the U.S. only considers the interests of Israel and the U.S. therefore would not be regarded in the Arab world as a “guarantor” of a Middle East peace.
WARNS AGAINST RELYING ON SAUDIS
Tucker, however, said the major interest of the U.S. in the area is to protect its oil supply and relying on Saudi Arabia to do this is even worse than the previous policy of relying on the Shah of Iran. He said the Saudis “have been neither moderate nor cooperative where our vital interests are concerned.”
Tucker explained that they are among the oil producing countries responsible for the increase in oil prices, that they have worked against the Camp David peace process and have continuously resisted placing American bases in Saudi Arabia or in any other Gulf countries.
In other testimony, Father Robert Drinan, president of Americans for Democratic Action (ADA), strongly opposed the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia. “If our goal is a stable, peaceful region, then we ought to
concentrate on solving the problems which stand in the way of peace and not create new difficulties for ourselves and the Saudis,” he said.
Drinan, a former Democratic Congressman from Massachusetts, said selling AWACS to Saudi Arabia “shields our eyes” from the many problems involved in bringing peace and stability to the region.
Drinan also warned of the danger of U.S. involvement in Middle East wars if Americans should be injured or killed while flying aboard an AWACS aircraft as trainers or joint commanders. “It would be very difficult for members of Congress and the Executive branch to resist public pressure to take action if U.S. citizens were endangered or killed,” he said.
THREAT TO SAUDI ARABIA IS INTERNAL
Thomas Dine, executive director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), told the Senate committee that the proposed sale would “jeopardize the national security of the U.S.” Dine noted that the sale would not help the Saudis because “the threat to Saudi Arabia is internal.”
He stressed that AIPAC supports “a true partnership between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia like the one that exists between the U.S. and the NATO countries and the U.S. and Israel and one similar to that rapidly developing between the U.S. and Egypt.” Dine stressed that in such a partnership “two nations can differ.”
He noted that “In recent years, administrations have shown they can offend Israel and deny requests or even delay or deny a weapons system needed and procured by the Israel government.” But, he said, despite this “Israel actually shares bases, ports, facilities, intelligence and other assets with the U.S.” while “Saudi Arabia has yet to show this kind of commitment.”
Under questioning, Dine rejected the proposal for joint ownership of the AWACS which many in Congress have said is the only way the Administration will get its arms package approved. He noted that joint control would be subject to the whims of the Saudis. He said that the Saudis ordered the U.S. out of a base in that country, that Libyan ruler Col. Muammar Qaddafi acted similarly later and the Ayatollah Khomeini ousted the U.S. from two intelligence bases in Iran.
CITES MORE SENSIBLE ALTERNATIVE
Robert Zweiman, national commander of the Jewish War Veterans of the U.S., also opposed the AWACS sale. He told the committee that instead of helping to achieve stability in the Middle East, the arms deal will have “a contrary effect.”
Zweiman said that instead of working on a system that would depend upon the “whims of the Saudis,” the “more sensible military altemative is for the U.S. to act as regional coordinator, working with Egypt, Israel and the Saudis.” He said that if the Saudis are to get the AWACS, it should be only after five conditions were met.
He listed these as: Ending the use of oil as a political weapon against the U.S. and its allies; payment to the U.S. for the cost of keeping the four AWACS now in Saudi Arabia; acceptance and participation in the Camp David process; ending supplies of money and material to the “Soviet controlled” countries of Syria, Iraq and South Yemen; and ending funding to the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Robert Thabit, president of the National Association of Arab-Americans, who supported the arms sale, accused members of the Senate and House of giving Israel “almost blind support.” He charged that Israel is trying to block the sale in order “to drive a wedge between the U.S. and its closest Arab friend, Saudi Arabia.” However, he said, if Israel seeks peace, it “can only benefit from closer ties between the U.S. and the moderate Arab governments in the Middle East such as Saudi Arabia.”
Secretary of State Alexander Haig was scheduled to testify before the committee later today.
See separate story P. 3.