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Administration Castigated for Continuing Arms Sale to Saudis

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The Reagan Administration, which has begun delivery of five AWACS sold to Saudi Arabia in 1981, was castigated by a member of the House for apparently giving no consideration to the overwhelming opposition in Congress to the sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia.

Rep. Mel Levine (D. Cal.), who led the recent fight in the House against the sale of sophisticated missiles to the Saudis, reminded two Administration officials that the House rejected the sale by a 356-62 vote and the Senate by a 73-22 vote. He added that the sale went through when the Senate failed to override President Reagan’s veto of the rejection by one vote.

Levine engaged in an angry exchange Monday with Richard Murphy, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, and Richard Armitage, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, at a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Europe and the Middle East hearing on President Reagan’s certification that the Saudis are eligible to receive the AWACS surveillance planes.

Reagan sent Congress on June 18 the certification that Saudi Arabia had met the conditions he promised Congress in 1981 were necessary for the planes to be sent to the Saudis. The first AWACS plane was delivered on July 2, according to Armitage. He said the other planes are scheduled to be delivered on August 31, October 31, December 31 and March 31, 1987.

Levine demanded to know if the strong opposition in Congress to the sale of the missiles had meant anything to the Administration. “It wasn’t fun,” Murphy replied. He said the Administration had not made its case to Congress.

Levine said the overwhelming Congressional vote against the missiles came in the “absence of outside advocacy” against the sale and because of what members of the Senate and House believe was in the national security interest. “Does that mean anything to this Administration in the context of its relationship with Saudi Arabia?” Levine asked.

Murphy replied that the United States has a security interest in ensuring the “stability” of Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf, preventing Soviet inroads in the area and protecting the free flow of oil from the Gulf.

THE PRICE IS TOO HIGH

Levine said Congress wants U.S. friendship with the Saudis but “the price we are being asked to pay a price,” Murphy replied. “They are paying hard cash for every piece of equipment they get from us.” Armitage said the Administration did rethink its position after the Congressional action, but “came to the same conclusion” it had earlier.

The five AWACS delivered to the Saudis will replace four U.S.-manned AWACS that have been in Saudi Arabia since 1980 because of the Iran-Iraq war. Armitage revealed that while the Saudis pay for fuel and housing of the U.S. personnel, the U.S. pays about $100 million of the remaining annual cost.

One of the major points required in Reagan’s certification for release of the AWACS was that the Saudis had contributed to peace. This has been a major point of difference between the Administration and Congress.

“Significant progress toward the peaceful resolution of disputes in the region has been accomplished with the substantial assistance of Saudi Arabia,” the President asserted in his certification.

Murphy stressed this in his remarks before the subcommittee on Monday. He particularly noted the 1981 Fahd peace plan which became the Arab Fez Communique. He said this changed the Arab consensus against recognition to propose his peace initiative.

Rep. Tom Lantos (D. Cal.) said that to claim the Saudis have helped the peace effort has an “Alice-in-Wonderland” quality. He said the Saudis have opposed Camp David, broke relations with Egypt after the peace treaty with Israel and have bankrolled the Palestine Liberation Organization and “pro-Soviet Syria.”

Noting that Murphy said the Saudis have tried to help end the Iran-Iraq war, Lantos said that is because “they would like to see a united Arab front against Israel.”

In his testimony, Armitage stressed that the AWACS do not pose a threat to Israel. He noted it would be “fool-hearty” for the Saudis to leave the oilfields unprotected to go to another area. In addition, Armitage maintained that the Saudis could not use the AWACS with combat aircraft from other Arab countries without compatible data links and extensive joint training, both of which are controlled by the U.S.

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