Washington (Oct. 25)
Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker declared today that although President Reagan’s proposed sale of AWACS reconnaissance planes faced an “uphill” fight in the Senate, he believed it is still “winable.” But former Vice President Walter Mondale predicted the Senate would reject the sale when it votes Wednesday and urged the President to withdraw it.
“As of this moment I am convinced that those who oppose the sale are well below the 50 mark and are losing momentum,” Baker said in an interview on the CBS-TV “Face the Nation” program. “We’re coming up, still behind, but … we are going to win.”
Baker indicated that some of those who have been listed as part of the Senate majority opposed to the $8.5 billion arms sale are considering switching but would only do so if they think the President has a chance of winning. Baker also indicated that he was pushing for a 50-50 deadlock in the Senate. Vice President George Bush would not be required to break the tie because a deadlock vote would mean the sale goes ahead since the vote is on a resolution of rejection and it needs 51 votes to veto the sale.
Mondale, who appeared on NBC-TV’s “Meet the Press” program, said he opposes the sale of the AWACS and the F-15 enhancement equipment as he did when it was first brought up in the Carter Administration last year because he feels it would “escalate the arms race” in the Mideast and “reduce the environment” for a Middle East peace. He said the Administration should concentrate on the peace effort.
His position was similar to that taken by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D. Mass.) who, in a statement released by his office last Friday, also called on the President to withdraw the sale. Kennedy said that “instead of promoting an arms race, Reagan should concentrate for working for peace in the Mideast.”
DOES NOT ANTICIPATE REAGAN “BOMB-SHELL’
Baker predicted that Reagan would not introduce any “bomb-shell” this week as the President continues his strong efforts to convince Senators to vote for the sale. This confirms the Administration’s contention that Reagan did not seek to get a Saudi agreement on joint U.S.-Saudi crewing of the AWACS when he met with Prince Fahd in Cancun, Mexico, last week, a condition which many observers believe is essential for the sale to be approved.
Reagan is scheduled to meet with eight Senators tomorrow and Baker said that both he and the President plan to continue their efforts to reverse opposition to the sale right down to the time the Senate votes, now expected to take place around 5 pm Wednesday.
Baker said he agreed with Reagan’s statement yesterday upon returning from Cancun that Senators who vote against the sale “are not doing their country a service.” He said he could not think of any issue in his 15 years in the Senate, including the Panama Canal treaties and the various Vietnam resolutions, that “has such profound implications for the welfare of this country both in the short term and the long term.”
He said while approval of the AWACS sale will not solve the problem in the Middle East, rejection “will begin unraveling” the efforts by the Carter and Reagan Administrations to find a “consensus” for the defense of the area.
Baker also aimed his appeal at Republicans in the Senate who plan to vote against the sale. Republicans joined Democrats in the House earlier this month in the vote 301-111 to reject the sale. Baker noted that rejection would harm the President’s ability to conduct foreign policy. But he said this was not the only issue and the sale should be approved because of its merits.
REJECT CLAIMS OF INCREASED ANTI-SEMITISM
Both Baker and Mondale rejected claims that if the sale is defeated it might increase anti-Semitism and cause a backlash against Israel in the United States
Baker said that those like him who would “grieve” if the AWACS sale was rejected would “immediately understand that there is a first prime responsibility to see that no such result (anti-Semitism) ensues. And I don’t believe it would. And I think the leadership of both sides of the aisle, the White House and throughout the country will recognize that this would have such devastating consequences that it is unacceptable.”
Mondale, while also rejecting a backlash added, “I deeply resent the attempt to introduce that kind of discussion into the debate.” He said the warnings by former President Nixon that there would be “consequences” to the American Jewish community and Israel if the sale was rejected was “totally inappropriate.” Mondale added that “the AWACS sale above all stands as an example of the influence of the Saudis in American foreign policy.”
On another subject Mondale said that he did not know anything about a report that Carter’s National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski had met with Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasir Arafat during the Carter Administration. He said that as far as he knew, the Administration under which he served maintained its commitment not to meet with the PLO until they recognize Israel and accept UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.
Mondale said that he still supports this view and noted that “in fairness” to former Presidents Ford and Carter, they also added this proviso when they said that the U.S. should have talks with the PLO But he said for the PLO to make this change, it has “a high hill to climb” since, he said, it was still dedicated to the destruction of Israel. Mondale noted that he felt “appalled” when PLO leaders cheered the death of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.