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U.S. Defers Formal Notification of Saudi Arms Sale to Congress

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Bowing to congressional pressure, the Reagan administration has indefinitely postponed formal notification to Congress of its proposed $950 million arms sale to Saudi Arabia.

The package includes $450 million in support equipment for AWACS reconnaissance planes previously sold to the Saudis. and $500 million in Bradley Fighting Vehicles and TOW missiles.

Under arms sale procedures. the administration has 20 days after providing informal notification to formalize it. That 20-day period expired April 19. Once formal notification is given, Congress then has 30 days to reject the sale; otherwise it would automatically go through.

The House and Senate each sent letters to Secretary of State George Shultz urging that it reconsider the sale. The House letter was signed by 187 members, while the Senate version had 58 signatures.

State Department spokesman Charles Redman said Tuesday that formal notification would be given “in the near future.” A State Department source said formal notification would be given within the next seven days.

Redman said he did not know of any formal Shultz reply to the congressional letters.

He reiterated that Saudi AWACS “are central to the protection of U.S Navy personnel and equipment in the (Persian) Gulf.”

“We remain fully committed to providing the necessary support to Saudi Arabia for the continued operation of the AWACS,” he said. “It’s in the national security interest of the United States to conclude this deal.”

The State Department source said a Saudi decision this week to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty will have an “ameliorating effect” on congressional concerns about new arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Both the House and Senate letters to Shultz express concern that the Saudi government acted irresponsibly in initially concealing its purchase of medium-range missiles from China last month.

Those missiles, which have a range of 1,600 miles, have the capability to reach Israel. Saudi Arabia has assured the State Department that the missiles will not be fitted with nuclear warhcads.

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