Washington (Oct. 15)
The Reagan Administration, in a last ditch attempt to avoid a Senate Foreign Relations Committee recommendation against the proposed sale to Saudi Arabia of AWACS reconnaissance planes and enhancement equipment for F-15s, said a Congressional rejection of the sale would damage United States “credibility” in the Middle East.
However, James Buckley, Under Secretary of State for Security Assistance, rejected a proposal by Sen. Claiborne Pell (D. R.I.) that the Administration take back the proposal and restudy the arms package in view of the rejection of the sale by the House by a 301 to III vote yesterday and what Pell said was almost a certain rejection by the Senate.
FULL SENATE VOTE POSTPONED
Buckley testified before the Senate Committee just hours before it was scheduled to vote on a resolution to reject the arms package. However, the full Senate vote, which was scheduled for next week, has been postponed for another week as President Reagan tries to convince individual Senators to support the arms sale.
Buckley said today that in discussions with Senators, the Administration has explained that the sale agreement with the Saudis contains assurances to protect the security of the highly sophisticated equipment being sold and safeguards that the arms would not be used against Israel.
Buckley denied that the Administration has ever considered using a provision of the Arms Export Control Act that would allow the Administration to send the arms to Saudi Arabia even if Congress
vetoes it by declaring that an emergency existed and that it was in the national interest to send the arms. He said the Administration has been working hard to convince Congress to approve the sale and believes it will win.
OPPOSITION BY SENATE MEMBERS
Meanwhile, four Democratic members of the Senate Armed Services Committee issued a statement today declaring their opposition to the $8.5 billion arms sale. The four who declared that the sale was “not in the national security interests of the United States” are Sens. Henry Jackson of Washington, Howard Cannon of Nevada, Gary Hart of Colorado and Carl Levin of Michigan.
In his testimony, Buckley said that the AWACS sale “lies at the heart” of the Administration’s efforts to “reestablish U.S. credibility in the Middle East.” He said the sale will help “influence” the way Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations view the U.S. and whether they can “rely” on the U.S. in facing external aggression in the area.
State Department Counselor Robert McFarlane said that if the sale was rejected it would reduce Saudi Arabia’s “ability and enthusiasm” to cooperate with the United States in meeting threats to the region from the Soviet Union and such countries as Libya.
Sen. Joseph Biden (D. Del.) said it was the Saudis who have pointed out the threat they were facing as well as that faced by the Sudan, North Yemen, and Egypt and said the threat would remain even if they did not receive the AWACS. But McFarlane maintained that the Saudis will be under pressure from other Arab countries not to cooperate with the U.S.
Sen. John Glenn (D. Ohio) said the real test of American commitment to the area was the stationing of the carrier fleet in the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean but the Administration was proposing to remove half of these carriers. He asked if this was “Stockman foreign policy,” a reference to David Stockman, director of the Office of Management and Budget. Buckley replied that the U.S. has global commitments it is seeking to enhance and the AWACS sale is part of an effort to enable countries in an area to deal with a regional threat.
DENIES ‘WHEELING AND DEALING’
Glenn also asked about reports that the Administration was making offers to Senators in return for their support of the arms sale. He said it had been reported that Sen. Charles Grassley (R. lowa) had been offered approval of a judicial appointment he was seeking and Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D. Ariz.) had been promised he would not face political opposition when he seeks reelection. Glenn called this “political bribery” and said he found it “appalling.” Richard Fairbanks, Assistant Secretary of State for Congressional Relations, said any reports about “wheeling and dealing” are erroneous. Buckley throughout his testimony stressed that the President and the Administration has in designing the arms package for the Saudis, maintained its commitment to keep Israel militarily superior to any possible enemy. Biden noted that while Israel could probably shoot down all the AWACS if they posed a threat, providing the Saudis with the Sidewinder missiles would mean the Israelis would suffer heavy losses in doing so. He said that Israel has a small population and can’t afford such losses.
Meanwhile, two AWACS planes which the U.S sent to Egypt for “an indeterminate period” arrived there today. The planes were sent to demonstrate increased American support for Egyptian and Sudanese security, both of which feel threatened by Libya. In addition, the planes were also sent to demonstrate U.S. support for Egypt following the assassination of President Anwar Sadat.
Israel, which opposes the supply of AWACS planes to Saudi Arabia, said today it had no objection to the use of AWACS in Egypt “because they are to be operated by American crews, remain in American ownership and we have understood will only remain there for a limited time,” an Israeli government official said.
According to reports, Israeli officials declined to comment publicly on the rejection by the House yesterday of the proposal to sell AWACS to Saudi Arabia, but unofficially they expressed satisfaction.