WASHINGTON (Jan. 31)
Secretary of State George Shultz stressed today that while the Reagan Administration has decided to defer the sale of any new arms to the Middle East, including F-15s and other equipment to Saudi Arabia, this does not mean it does not plan to sell weapons to Arab states in the near future.
“I think our interests are arguably served by (the) strength of countries in the Middle East in addition to Israel,” he said in response to questions in the opening session of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s two months of hearings on American foreign policy.
Shultz confirmed the decision revealed yesterday by Richard Murphy, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, while testifying to the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s subcommittee on Europe and the Middle East.
Murphy said the Administration wants to review “how our various programs in the security field will complement our efforts in the peace process” and “how it can help achieve a general stability” in the Mideast.
The review presumably includes Israel, but Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin told a press conference here yesterday that Israel has no plans to ask the U.S. for new weapons systems.
SERIES OF HEARINGS SCHEDULED
Shultz’s comments came after Sen. Rudy Boschwitz (R. Minn.) noted that every four years the Administration presents Congress with a weapons package for Saudi Arabia despite the strong opposition to it in Congress. Boschwitz pointed out that Sen. Richard Lugar (R. Ind.), the Committee’s chairman, said he has scheduled the series of hearings in an attempt to achieve a consensus on foreign policy. Boschwitz said that proposing to sell arms to Saudi Arabia would not lead to that consensus.
SAYS CONTINUED ARMS SALES TO ARABS ARE NEEDED
But Shultz said “as we study this question, I don’t have much doubt in my mind that we will find” that continued arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries are needed. “I can’t say at this time specifically what,” he added. “But I certainly wouldn’t sit here and say that you should expect no proposals introduced.”
Shultz said that an “example” of the beneficial effects of past sales to the Saudis and other Arab states is that the “tanker war” in the Persian Gulf was “kept under control in part because some of our friends had the equipment and the capability to use it in a manner that was a challenge” to Iran. “That was a contribution not only to their stability and their security but also to our stability and our security,” the Secretary asserted.
ISRAEL’S ECONOMY DISCUSSED
Sen. Alan Cranston (D. Cal.) said he believes weapons sales should be deferred as long as the Saudis act in ways that are damaging to both U.S. interests and Israel. He said Saudi “oil blackmail” has been used to enforce an Arab-led boycott against Israel which he said has contributed to Israel’s economic difficulties.
But Schultz replied that he did not believe the boycott was responsible for Israel’s economic problems. “They are, I believe, largely self-induced,” because of poor economic management, he said. “It is perfectly possible to have a thriving prosperous economy in Israel given the quality of the people there and their capabilities.”
Shultz said the U.S. is ready to help Israel and will “do what is necessary.” But he said Israel has to take steps to improve its economy which he said it is now trying to do. “We are working very closely with the government of Israel and sympathetically,” he said.
REJECTS GETTING TOGETHER WITH THE USSR
When Sen. Frank Murkowski (R. Alaska) asked whether if a new Arab-Israeli war broke out the U.S. would have to get together with the Soviet Union to keep it from spreading, Shultz replied, “No sir.” When Murkowski asked for a fuller explanation, Shultz said that “if a war broke out today I think Israel would give a very good account of itself.”
He added that if such a conflict arose, the U.S. might discuss with the Soviet Union, as it has in the past, “damage control.” But he said he does not “fore-see any development that will lead us to want to come together with the Soviet Union for some type of condominium in the Middle East. The way to get at the problem in the Middle East is far, particularly, the Arab states around Israel, to sit down with Israel and negotiate out a peace agreement.”
SUPPORT FOR REAGAN’S INITIATIVE
In his prepared statement, Shultz said the U.S. remains “committed” to President Reagan’s September 1, 1982 Middle East peace initiative “as the most promising route to a solution of the Palestinian problem. We will be intensively engaged this year in consultations with our Arab and Israeli friends to explore opportunities for progress.” But he also noted that “recent events have reminded us that the Arab-Israel conflict is far from the only source of tension in that part of the world.”
Responding to questions, Shultz said he would press for Senate ratification of the UN convention against genocide. Reagan announced support for ratification last September in a speech to B’nai B’rith International. But the Senate failed to adopt it in its rush to adjourn for the elections. However, the Foreign Relations Committee promised that it will be reintroduced this year.