Washington (Oct. 14)
The House of Representatives voted 301-111 this afternoon to reject the Reagan Administration’s proposed $8.5 billion sale to Saudi Arabia of AWACS and enhancement equipment for F-15s.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is expected to vote tomorrow and the full Senate will vote next Tuesday. The fight has been concentrating in the Senate where a majority is reported still opposed to the AWACS sale although Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker (R. Tenn.) said yesterday that he was “optimistic” that the trend was moving in support of President Reagan.
Baker made the statement after he attended a meeting between Reagan and Sen. Larry Pressler (R. S. D.), one of the Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who is opposed to the sale.
Pressler told reporters that he was still against the sale of AWACS to Saudi Arabia but hoped the President could come up with some compromise that would meet conditions that he would require to vote for it. Pressler said these conditions would be some kind of continued U.S. control over the AWACS and assurances that the arms sale would not endanger Israel’s security.
He indicated that the U.S. might offer to help Israel to obtain the equipment needed to jam the AWACS radar system. Pressler said Reagan had promised to send Senators a letter outlining the assurances many of them want. Baker said that the letter is the same one which Reagan discussed with 43 Republicans last week in which the Administration would outline the assurances to which it said the Saudis have agreed.
A REVERSAL OF ROLES
In the three-hour House debate today, there was a reversal of roles as the fight to support the President was led by Rep. Clement Zablocki (D. Wis.) who is chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Zablocki was one of only three Democrats who supported the sale when the House Committee recommended against approval of the sale by a 28-8 vote, last week. The House floor debate against the sale was led today by Rep. William Broomfield (R. Mich.), the ranking minority member on the Foreign Affairs Committee.
Broomfield, in opposing the sale, told the House that Congress must stress that the rejection does not mean any “lessening of our commitment to the security of Saudi Arabia.” Rep. Lee Hamilton (D. Ind.’ stressed that the U.S. must approve the “post-vote” situation in the Mideast by moving ahead with the peace process.
Hamilton said he was opposed to the sale because it was “unwise” to provide Saudi Arabia with sophisticated equipment because it would “fuel, not dampen” the arms race, and none of the assurances of continued U.S. control of the AWACS made by the Administration to Congress is in writing.
Zablocki said joint control by the U.S. is unnecessary because U.S. participation in the AWACS
will be necessary until January 1990. He said the Saudis could not operate the AWACS for more than a week without U.S. participation.
U.S. SECURITY AT STAKE
House Minority Leader Robert Michel (R. III.) said that what was important was not the safeguarding of the AWACS but the safeguarding of U.S. security. He said that if the Saudis did not buy the AWACS they would buy the British Nimrod and then there would be no possibility of U.S. control over the planes.
Michel rejected the analogy with Iran, that opponents of the sale have been making, as “false.” He said that the Saudi regime has the support of its people, as was not the case with the late Shah of Iran.
Rep. Clarence Long (D. Md.), the author of the resolution of disapproval of the arms sale, said that just as having the sixth largest army in the world did not keep the Shah in power, and sophisticated jets and tanks did not save Egyptian President Anwar Sadat from assassination, Sadat’s death proved that the real threat to Mideast governments is internal, not external.
Michel and Zablocki had argued that the AWACS would not threaten Israel because they would be used by the Saudis only to protect themselves from external threats to the oilfields.
ARGUMENTS PRO AND CON
Rep. Paul Findley (R. III.) stressed that the President has the “inescapable responsibility” to seek peace in the Middle East. He said that if the AWACS are not provided to the Saudis, this would “undercut” the President’s ability to get the Saudis and other moderate Arab states to join in peace efforts. But Rep. Jack Kemp (R. NY) noted that the Saudis have been among the leading opponents of the Camp David peace process. He said “the linchpin” of U.S. Mideast policy is not the AWACS but the Camp David process.
Rep. Stephen Solarz (D. NY) said it was “ill grace” for Reagan to argue that the AWACS sale should be backed because of the need to support the President in foreign policy matters because it was Reagan, before he was elected, who led the opposition to the Panama Canal treaties and the SALT II treaty.
Rep. Paul McCloskey (R. Calif.) warned of the dangers to the U.S. economy if Saudi oil was cut off. He said this would lead to a two percent increase in unemployment, a five percent drop in the gross national product and a 20 percent increase in inflation. But Rep. Edward Derwinski (R. III.) said the Saudis would continue to sell oil to the U.S. because they want American dollars.
Rep. Toby Moffett (D. Conn.) said that he opposed sending advanced arms to a “iffy government” in Saudi Arabia which was a leading oil supplier at the same time that the Reagan Administration was proposing to “disarm ourselves” in case of an oil cut-off. He was referring to Administration proposals to remove energy conservation regulations.
MOVES IN THE SENATE
In the Senate, meanwhile, there was a possibility that Baker would seek to stall the resolution rejecting the sale in the Foreign Relations Committee. He said yesterday that if the committee did not report out the resolution, the full Senate could then vote to discharge it.
But he said it was unlikely that the Senate would vote a discharge resolution. Such a resolution would require a simple majority of the Senate to bring the AWACS rejection resolution to the floor in the event that the Foreign Relations Committee was deadlocked. Some observers saw this as a plan by Baker to avoid a vote on the AWACS. A vote on a discharge resolution would not be a vote on the issue of the AWACS sale.
The latest count in the Foreign Relations Committee was 10-7 in favor of the resolution of rejection.