Washington (Oct. 15)
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 9-8 today to recommend that the Senate disapprove the Reagan Administration’s $8.5 billion sale of AWACS reconnaissance aircraft and enhancement equipment for F-15 jets to Saudi Arabia. At the same time, the Senate Armed Services Committee voted 10-5 to back the proposed sale. That out-come had been expected.
Sen. Howard Baker (R. Tenn.), the Senate majority leader, announced that he would schedule a full Senate debate on the arms sale for either October 26, 27 or 28 and planned to complete the entire 10-hour debate and vote in one day. The law sets a 10-hour limit on debate to avoid filibuster.
Although the Foreign Relations Committee had been expected to vote against the AWACS sale, it did so by a slim one vote majority when Sen. Larry Pressler (R. SD), a leading opponent of the arms package, voted with the Administration.
Pressler said President Reagan had called him from Philadelphia, where he was making a speech today, to tell him that the assurances Pressler had sought for the security of the equipment being sold and for the safety of Israel, would be included in a letter the President is sending the Senators.
Pressler said he had lunched today with the U.S. Ambassador to Italy, Maxwell Rabb, who he described as a leading member of the American Jewish community who told him it was important to support the President’s foreign policy during his first year in office.
The committee’s eight Democrats all voted to reject the sale. The ninth vote for rejection was cast by Sen. Rudy Boschwitz (R. Minn.) who said he would have liked to support the President but joined with Sen. John Glenn (D. Ohio) in demanding joint U.S.-Saudi crewing and command of the AWACS, a proposal the Administration rejected.
Prior to the voting, Baker stressed that “Anyone who believes the security of Israel will be enhanced by diminishing our influence in the Arab world is very wrong.”
VIEWS PRO AND CON
But Sen. Alan Cranston (D. Calif.) and others insisted that Israel was endangered by the sale. They noted that if the Saudis possess AWACS and enhanced F-15s they would be pressured by other Arab countries to join in a future war against Israel, something they have not done up to now.
Boschwitz said, however, that the sale was not a threat to Israel but to American security because the U.S. was providing its most advanced technology to Saudi Arabia, something it has withheld from other countries.
Sen. Charles Percy (R. III.) Foreign Relations Committee chairman, noted that all members of the committee have supported Israel in their careers and are devoted to efforts to bring peace to the Middle East. He said that if the U.S. had not provided F-5 jet fighters to Egypt in 1978, the late President Anwar Sadat would not have been encouraged to continue his peace efforts.
Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D. Md.) said the reason Egypt was provided with the planes was because it was already involved in the peace effort whereas Saudi Arabia, in contrast, has opposed the Camp David peace process from the beginning. Cranston added that the Saudis also back the Palestine Liberation Organization. Others said the sale of the AWACS would only increase the spiraling arms race in the Middle East.
Sen. Paul Tsongas (D. Mass.) said if the sale was rejected there would be a backlash against Israel. He said this was because of “the senseless policies of (Premier) Menachem Begin.” He referred to Begin’s settlement policy and Israel’s air raids last summer on Iraq’s nuclear reactor and on Beirut.