Revised Saudi Arms Sale Expected to Pass Congress

The Reagan Administration’s proposed $1 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia, which only a few days ago seemed almost certain to be rejected by Congress, now is expected to go through without much difficulty. The turnaround came Thursday when the White House reached an agreement with several key Senators which eliminated Maverick anti-tank missiles from the package.

The package does contain 12 F-15C and F-15D jet fighters, which would be delivered to the Saudis when their present F-15s wear out or crash, maintaining the Saudi F-15 fleet at 60. It also will include electronic upgrading equipment for the F-15 and M-60 tanks the Saudis already have, and 93 artillery-ammunition carriers.

The compromise was announced after 68 Senators and half of the House had announced their opposition to the sale. It had been worked out by President Reagan’s National Security Adviser, Frank Carlucci, in meetings with Senate opponents of the sale.

Both Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd (D. W. Va.), who had opposed the sale, and Senate Minority Leader Robert Dole (R. Kan.) expressed support for the proposal. “I think it’s probably going to be approved,” Dole said after the White House meeting in which the compromise was approved.

More important, the compromise was approved by Sen. Bob Packwood (R. Ore.), who along with Sen. Alan Cranston (D. Calif.) had initiated two letters to Reagan in September urging against any arms sales to Saudi Arabia The last letter on Sept. 25 had 68 signatures.

In addition, the compromise was also supported by two Jews in the Senate, Sens. Howard Metzenbaum (D. Ohio) and Rudy Boschwitz (R. Minn.).

“We have decided not to contest the sale.” Packwood said.

The decision by Packwood, who has led the opposition to all previous arms sales to the Saudis, would almost guarantee the sale will go through even if a resolution is introduced in the Senate to reject the arms package.

AIPAC NOT EXPECTED TO LOBBY AGAINST SALE

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is not expected now to lobby against the sale. The support of the compromise by at least two Jewish Senators, both leading advocates of Israel, makes it easier for other Senators to support the sale without being considered anti-Israel.

The Maverick was considered the weapon in the arms package with the most potential danger to Israel. The Administration withdrew last June a proposal to sell the Saudis 1,600 of the anti-tank missiles because of strong congressional opposition.

The White House had delayed submitting the arms proposal because it had hoped to convince Senate opponents to accept a lesser number of Mavericks. But this effort failed. A statement Thursday said that Reagan “personally assured the Saudi government that in event of an emergency the United States would provide Mavericks from American stocks with appropriate notifications to the Congress.”

While congressional opponents had voiced concern that the weapons sold to the Saudis could be used against Israel in a future Arab-Israel war, their opposition had stressed the lack of Saudi support for U.S. national interest objectives in the Mideast, including the peace process, and Saudi support for organizations, such as the Palestine Liberation Organization, which engage in terrorism. The Administration was apparently successful in convincing opponents that the Saudis have been cooperating in the latest U.S. efforts in the Persian Gulf. Capitol Hill sources noted that both sides can now claim they won. They credit the Administration’s willingness to consult with Congress, particularly the Senate, before announcing the arms proposal, rather than the previous practice of sending the proposal to Congress and then seeking support.

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