Reagan Insists That Arms Sale to Jordan is ‘essential’ to Peace in the Middle East

President Reagan, who late yesterday formally notified Congress that the Administration plans to sell $1.5-$1.9 billion in highly sophisticated arms to Jordan, told Republican Congressional leaders today that the sale is “essential” to the Middle East peace process.

“Despite the recent bombing and hijacking incidents, we continue to believe that the opportunity for peace is still there and it must be exploited before it slips from our grasp,” White House spokesman Larry Speakes said Reagan told the GOP leaders.

Speakes said Reagan stressed that the “momentum” toward peace continues because both King Hussein of Jordan and Israeli Premier Shimon Peres have called for direct negotiations. However, although Peres has called for immediate face-to-face negotiations, Hussein wants an international conference.

The President, according to Speakes, told the Congressional leaders that “our aim is to create the conditions which will lead to a lasting Middle East peace. The sale of defensive weapons to Jordan is essential to this process.”

The proposed sale in which Jordan would select either 40 F-20A Tiger Shark jets or 40 F-16Cs will go through unless both Houses of Congress pass resolutions rejecting the sale. The Democratic-controlled House is expected to approve such a resolution and the battle is expected to be in the Senate, where 73 Senators have already signed a letter opposing such a sale until Jordan begins negotiations with Israel.(Related story, P. 4.)

GOP LEADERSHIP ADVISES AGAINST SALE NOW

Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole (R. Kans.) told reporters that although the Republican Congressional leadership had advised Reagan against submitting the sale proposal now, the President was acting to keep “his word to King Hussein.” Dole said he was not sure how he would vote. “I think it is a bit premature myself,” he said.

However, both Dole and House Minority Leader Robert Michel (R. III.) said they would try to work out some means of preventing Congressional rejection of the sale. Submitting the proposal “was the President’s call,” Dole said. “Now it’s in our court and we hope to take care of it in some way.”

Michel indicated that since delivery time for the planes takes two-and-a-half-years, it would provide some “wiggle room” if the sale is approved in which Hussein “could do a few more things.”

This seemed to follow the outline suggested Sunday by Sen. Richard Lugar (R. Ind.), who said that he would try to work out with opponents of the sale conditions that might include delivery time or types of weapons.

Michel said that Jewish leaders who have spoken to him have stressed that the same condition should be put on Jordan as was on Egypt. He said they noted that after Egypt made peace with Israel there was no objection to the U.S. providing it with arms. But Michel said that the situation was more difficult for Jordan.

However, Sen. Pete Wilson (R. Cal.), the latest Senator to sign the letter opposing the arms, also stressed the analogy with Egypt in a press release yesterday. “I greatly fear that an arms sale to Jordan now, without the commencement first of direct, bilateral talks with Israel, is more likely to remove incentive for talks than provide it,” Wilson said. “Let the peace process first begin, and let us then reward the peacemakers.”

The proposed sale will be either for $1.5 billion or $1.9 billion, depending on whether Jordan buys 40 of the F-20′s or the more expensive F-16′s. In addition, the arms package includes 12 mobile Hawk surface-to-air missiles, upgrading Jordan’s existing 14 Hawk batteries to make them mobile; 108 Stinger shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles; 300 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles; and 32 M-3 Bradley tanks.

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