WASHINGTON (Jan. 4)
The U.S. gave its blessing today to Egypt’s purchase of 20 advanced Mirage-2000 jet combat aircraft from France. The $1 billion deal, financed by the French government, was announced in Cairo yesterday by Egyptian Defense Minister Abdel-Halim Ghazala at a joint press conference with visiting French Foreign Minister Claude Cheysson.
State Department spokesman Dean Fischer said today: “We have long recognized that Egypt’s need for military equipment went far beyond that which we have ourselves been able to provide from our own military assistance program. To the extent that Egypt can further its efforts to replace a portion of its ageing Soviet military equipment with assistance from others, this is a development which we welcome and which will complement our own efforts to be of assistance.”
Fischer added that there was “no conflict between our own program to supply F-16s to Egypt and the reported sale of M-2000 Mirage aircraft.” The report from Cairo said that 100 Egyptian pilots and mechanics would go to France this year to gain experience on the Alpha jet ground support planes Egypt contracted to buy from France last year.
NO COMMENT ON IRAQI REPORT
Fischer said he would not comment on an Iraqi report that Israeli jets violated Iraqi air space yesterday for the second time in recent days, but added, “I don’t have any information to suggest that they (the Israelis) did not do it.” He went on to say that “our views have been made known to the Israelis. We regard overflights such as this as unhelpful and quite likely to contribute to tensions in the area.” Israel has refused to confirm or deny the Iraqi report.
With respect to other matters, Fischer said it was up to President Reagan to decide whether to appoint a high level American negotiator for the Middle East and noted that “up to now he has not made that decision.” Fischer noted that the U.S. Ambassadors to Israel and Egypt, Samuel Lewis and Alfred Atherton, respectively, who have been representing the U.S. at the Israeli-Egyptian autonomy talks, are coming to Washington and will probably meet with Reagan this week.
He could not confirm reports that Secretary of State Alexander Haig will visit the Middle East after attending a NATO meeting in Brussels on January 11.
CAN’T COMMENT ON SAUDI PLAN
Fischer said the State Department “noted” an interview with Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Faisel al-Saud, published in The New York Times yesterday. “I can’t characterize our comment other than to note that we remain in close consultation with the Saudis on the overall issues of the Middle East,” he said. According to the interview, the Saudi minister said his country’s proposed plan includes acceptance of Israel on condition that it withdraws from all occupied Arab territory and recognizes Palestinian rights.
The State Department spokesman dismissed questions about how the U.S. would vote in the UN Security Council when it resumes debate tomorrow for sanctions against Israel. “It’s a little premature to speculate. We don’t know what the resolution will be. Based on press reports, we assume there will be one but we have not seen it,” he said.