WASHINGTON (May. 19)
The Reagan Administration denied Monday that it has made an effort to get American Jewish leaders to support President Reagan’s proposed $354 million missile sale to Saudi Arabia. “We were not in a position to ask the Jewish leaders to lobby for the Saudi arms sale,” White House spokesman Larry Speakes said.
His comment came as he announced the cancellation of a scheduled meeting Monday between Reagan and leaders of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish organizations because of the death of Yehuda Hellman, executive vice president of the Conference.
Speakes said the meeting was not rescheduled because the President is expected to veto the Congressional resolution rejecting the arms sale either Tuesday or Wednesday. However, he said Reagan is expected to speak to a Jewish group Tuesday as it is receiving a briefing from Administration officials.
Speakes maintained that the Jewish leaders had been asked to meet with Reagan as part f the Administration’s “continuing effort” to keep American Jewish leaders “informed on our Middle East policy.” He said the Saudi arms sale would have been explained as part of the U.S. effort to “increase stability” in the Middle East.
Speakes noted that the idea to get the Jewish community to back the arms sale was suggested by Sen. Richard Lugar (R. Ind.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, when he met with Reagan last week. He said the Administration only said it would consider Lugar’s suggestion.
But Secretary of State George Shultz, in speaking before the American Jewish Committee’s annual meeting last Thursday night, urged support, arguing that rejecting the President would harm his standing abroad.
Whether the President’s veto comes Tuesday or Wednesday may depend on whether he is able to convince at least 12 Senators who voted against the sale to change their vote to prevent the Senate from overriding the veto.
The Republican-controlled Senate voted 73-22 against the sale while the Democratic-controlled House rejected it by a 356-62 vote. It takes a two-thirds vote by both bodies to override a veto.
If the veto message is sent Tuesday, Congress can act this week. But if it comes Wednesday, the deadline for the veto, a vote would probably not come until after Congress returns from its Memorial Day recess on June 3.