Senate Clears Way for Saudi Arms Sale; Reagan Veto Sustained
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Senate Clears Way for Saudi Arms Sale; Reagan Veto Sustained

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President Reagan got the exact number of votes he needed in the Senate Thursday to go ahead with his proposed sale of sophisticated missiles to Saudi Arabia.

The Senate voted 66-34 to sustain Reagan’s veto of the Congressional resolution rejecting the sale, one vote short of the two-thirds needed to override the veto. Reagan worked to the last minute to convince Senators to support him, even at a breakfast meeting at the White House attended by most of the Senate Thursday morning to discuss tax reform.

Sen. Richard Lugar (R. Ind.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who led the fight to sustain the veto, stressed that “the authority of the Presidency is at stake” in the vote. That was the position taken by a number of Senators who voted last month to oppose the sale, but switched sides on Thursday. The Senate vote last month was 73-26 against the Saudi missile deal.


The latter included Sens. James Exon (D. Neb.) and Chic Hecht (R. Nev.). Both stressed the need to support the President in international relations. Exon revealed that former President Jimmy Carter had called several Senators urging them to support the arms sale to the Saudis. He noted that Reagan had not asked Carter to make the calls.

Sen. Alan Cranston (D. Calif.), who led the fight against the sale, said that despite the vote sustaining the veto, it was still a victory. He noted that two-thirds of the Senate and an overwhelming majority in the House which voted 356-62 against the sale, sent a message to the Saudis that the U.S. expected more from their friendship than it has been receiving.

Cranston also noted that the sale, which includes 1,666 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles and 100 Harpoon air-to-sea missiles at a cost of $267 million, is 90 percent less than the Saudis reportedly wanted in January. He said this was not because the President, just before his veto, removed 800 Stinger shoulder-fired missiles from the package, but also because the Saudis’ original request for more F-15 aircraft, M-1 tanks and enhancement equipment for the F-15s previously sold to them, was dropped.


Both the Israeli government and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) did not actively lobby against the sale, though they went on record as opposed to it. However, Sen. Barry Goldwater (R. Ariz.) said Senators had been under “intense pressure”–the use of money and “threats” from a foreign government he did not name–to oppose the sale.

Sen. Alan Simpson (R. Wy.), stressing his friendship for Israel, said that friendship comes from mutual respect and not from an attitude that you must be with us at all times. He said friendship cannot be built on political threats.

Sen. Rudy Boschwitz (R. Minn.) replied that all lobbies argued that you have to be with us. He said the Senate vote against the sale last month had nothing to do with one lobby or another but with the belief in Congress that the Saudis were not “truly moderate.”

While Israel was mentioned throughout the debate by both sides, the argument against the sale basically was that Saudi Arabia had not supported U.S. peace efforts in the Middle East, has bankrolled the Palestine Liberation Organization and had not supported U.S. national interests in the region.

Exon and Sen. Pete Domenici (R. NM) said the original vote in the Senate and House against the sale was a message to the Saudis in part that the U.S. was angry over Saudi criticism of the American punitive air raid on Libya May 14. Domenici said he believed the Saudis got the message.

Lugar, as he has done several times in the past, brought up the economic consequences of not selling arms to the Saudis. He noted that by not selling them F-15 fighters, the Saudis are buying planes from Britain in an amount that will eventually come to $20 billion.

He said the Senators consistently ignored this fact at a time when the U.S. needs to improve its balance of payments, its foreign trade and to provide more jobs for Americans. He added that the U.S. was not giving the Saudis anything. “We’re making a cash sale.”

Sen. Paul Simon (D. Ill.) said that to argue that if the U.S. does not sell arms to the Saudis someone else will, is not a valid argument. The decision should be on “whether it is right or wrong,” he said.

After the vote, Lugar told reporters he did not believe the Administration will have similar problems when it presents to Congress later this month the certification needed to begin delivery of the five AWACS reconnaissance planes sold to Saudi Arabia in 1981. He said he believed the whole issue was discussed during the present debate and the air was cleared.

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