WASHINGTON (Mar. 11)
The Reagan Administration made its long-expected notification to Congress Tuesday of its proposal to sell $354 million in sophisticated missiles to Saudi Arabia.
State Department deputy spokesman Charles Redman said the package would include 671 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, 995 of the most advanced from of the Sidewinder, 200 Stinger shoulder-held ground-to-air missiles and 100 Harpoon air-to-sea missiles.
Tuesday’s announcement to Congress begins a 20day period of informal notification followed by 30 days of formal notification. The sale will go through in 50 days unless both the House and Senate pass resolutions to reject the sale.
A spokesman for Sen. Alan Cranston (D. Calif.), who had earlier gathered some 60 signatures for a resolution opposing what was expected to be a much more comprehensive package, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that Cranston expects to get most of the same Senators to support a resolution rejecting Tuesday’s proposal.
A proposed $1.9 billion arms sale to Jordan, submitted to Congress last October, was withdrawn by Reagan in January when it became clear to the Administration that Congress would reject it.
But Richard Murphy, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, said at a White House briefing for the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations last week that he believed there would be less opposition to the Saudi sale.
The Administration is expected to make a strong argument that Saudi Arabia needs the missiles to protect it from an increasingly threatening Iran. Redman said Tuesday that it was “a valid security requirement.”
Last year, the Administration indicated it was preparing to sell the Saudis F-15 fighters, M-1 tanks and helicopter gunships in addition to the missiles. But the package was scaled down because of the Congressional opposition. Meanwhile, the Saudis have ordered Tornado jet fighters from Britain.
Cranston’s spokesman said that the Administration’s pursuit of the sale “would seem to be an imprudent use of political capital.” He said he doubted it would work since after sounding out many of the signatories of the earlier resolution there was “no evidence of any erosion” in support of a resolution of disapproval.
He said that even though Israel is down-playing its opposition to the sale since the Saudis already have many of the missiles being sold, Cranston believes it is a matter of principle that goes beyond the danger posed to Israel.
“It’s not the technology that’s the issue,” the spokesman said. “It’s the principle of reflexively arming a state that thumbs its nose at U.S. national security interests.” He said if the Saudis were to endorse peace talks between Jordan and Israel, “we would have a whole new ball game.”
Sen. Majority leader Robert Dole (R. Kan.) told the United Jewish Appeal’s National Young Leadership Conference last week that he had urged the White House to go slow on the Saudi sale. But Capitol Hill sources said Tuesday that Sen. Richard Lugar (R. Ind.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, had reportedly recommended that the proposal be sent to Congress at this time.