WASHINGTON (Feb. 16)
President Reagan, in a letter today to Premier Menachem Begin, sought to assure Israel that “American policy toward Israel has not changed” and that the U.S. is determined to maintain “Israel’s qualitative technological edge” in the Middle East.
“Israel remains America’s friend and ally,” Reagan said. He said that recent press reports arising from Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger’s trip to the Middle East which indicated that the U.S. was shifting its military policy away from Israel and toward the Arab states were “incorrect and exaggerated.”
The “Dear Menachem” letter was released at the White House by David Gergen, White House Communications Director, just 2 1/2 hours before Moshe Arens, Israel’s new Ambassador to the U. S. was to present his credentials to Reagan. Gergen said the letter was being released before the President sees a letter from Begin which is expected to be given to him by Arens.
The Begin letter is believed to express Israel’s displeasure with reported U.S. proposals to sell Jordan F-16 jet fighters and Hawk mobile air defense systems and also refers to the Knesset resolution adopted yesterday by a vote of 88-3 deploring such sales.
DENIES MOVE TO SELL ARMS TO JORDAN
But Reagan, in his letter stressed that no such move was planned and that Weinberger did not bring back with him a request from Jordan for new weapons. Gergen referred to statements by Weinberger on television this morning and by Secretary of State Alexander Haig on a television appearance Sunday which denied that there had been any such weapons request.
Appearing on the NBC-TV “Today” program, Weinberger said Israel’s military edge would be a factor in any discussion of arms requests by Jordan. He said his review of Jordan’s military needs during his visit to Amman last week was within the context of his responsibilities as Defense Secretary.
The Defense Secretary insisted that he had not suggested that U.S. policy was moving away from Israel. He said he had merely expressed the view that the U.S. needed more friends in the Middle East in addition to Israel.
However, reports from the Middle East said that King Hussein of Jordan would not officially make a request for U.S. arms until he was certain of Congressional approval of it.
NO REDIRECTION OF U.S. POLICY
Gergen also denied that a “senior official” in Weinberger’s party on his Middle East trip had said the U.S. would “redirect” its military policy in the region away from Israel and toward the more moderate Arab states. He said that Defense Department spokesman Henry Cato had told him this statement was not made. Cato, at the Pentagon today, blamed the misunderstanding on airplane noise although he conceded he was not present when the statement was supposed to have been made aboard Weinberger’s jet on the return flight from the Middle East.
Nevertheless, Gergen said, if anyone in the Administration said that the Administration wanted to redirect its policy, that statement “was wrong.”
REAGAN’S LETTER TO BEGIN
Reagan’s letter to Begin said: “Recent press reports have presented incorrect and exaggerated commentary regarding U.S. military assistance policies for the Middle East.
“I want you to know that American policy toward Israel has not changed. Our commitments will be kept. I am determined to see that Israel’s qualitative technological edge is maintained and am mindful as well of your concerns with respect to quantitative factors and their impact on Israel’s security.
“The policy of this government remains as stated publicly by me. Secretary Haig’s and Secretary, Weinberger’s statements on the public record are also clear. There has been no change regarding our military supply relationship for Jordan and Secretary Weinberger brought me no new requests.
“Any decision on future sales to Jordan or any other country in the region will be made in the context of my Administration’s firm commitment to Israel’s security and the need to bring peace to the region.
“Israel remains America’s friend and ally. However, I believe it is in the interests of both our countries for the U.S. to enhance its influence with other states in the region. I recognize the unique bond between the U.S. and Israel and the serious responsibilities which this bond imposes on us both.”
Asked about the last sentence in the letter, Gergen said it refers to the question of restraint and consultations incumbent upon both countries.
ARENS STRESSES U.S.-ISRAELI FRIENDSHIP
Meanwhile, Arens, in a prepared statement to be made when he presents his credentials, referred only obliquely to the problems between Israel and the U.S. He stressed the long friendship between the two countries and Israel’s desire for peace.
“Israel’s contribution to the peace process is one that goes beyond what our nation in our position could reasonably have been expected to make,” Arens said. “If, nevertheless, we have made these commitments, it is because we wish to remain true to our fundamental yearning for peace and we have made them on the understanding that after the Sinai withdrawal is completed the peace process will continue as envisioned and agreed in the Camp David accords.
“We know that we can rely on your Administration to give your full support to the continuation of this process that the peace between Israel and Egypt may grow and flourish and indeed may prevail with the other countries of the region as well.”
Arens expressed the “profound gratitude” of the Israeli government and people for Reagan’s “longstanding friendship toward Israel, for the understanding you have shown for its needs and for the generous help you have extended to my country. Even though differences have sometimes arisen between us, as frequently happens among the best of friends, let me assure you Mr. President that you as well as the great American nation are at all times held in the highest esteem among all segments of our people.”
CITES SHARED VALUES AND TRADITIONS
Arens stressed that the U.S. and Israel are bound together by “the ideals and values we hold in common.” He said, “it is these shared values and traditions that establish the basis for the common interests for the U.S. and Israel.”
Arens noted “those who know history, those who know the Bible as a reflection of history and as the great spiritual heritage of Western civilization are cognizant of the fact that modem Israel is a return of an age-old people to its ancestral homeland. Unfortunately, awareness of this fact is only slowly, very slowly beginning to dawn upon the consciousness of the peoples in Israel’s own region; indeed most of our neighbor states are still deeply hostile to the phenomenon of Jewish liberation with which they have yet to come to terms.”
Arens praised the U.S. for helping achieve the Camp David accords and the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty but he added that “it is difficult to express in words the great price that Israel is paying for these agreements. Israel is relinquishing territory containing a great resource that has played a vital role in the security of our nation. Israel is assuming a most difficult economic burden. The removal of farmers from their fields and residences, from their homes, is a traumatic experience Israel will undergo during the next few months as we complete the withdrawal from Sinai.”The withdrawal is scheduled to be completed April 25.