WASHINGTON (Jul. 11)
The Reagan administration made a strong pitch Monday for its proposed $1.9 billion arms sale to Kuwait, as the Persian Gulf country’s prime minister began two days of talks with President Reagan and other officials.
A senior administration official stressed that not only would the sale support U.S. foreign policy interests in the Persian Gulf, it would have major economic benefits for the United States, which now has a balance-of-trade deficit.
The official said the sale would provide thousands of jobs in 39 states and would increase the U.S. gross national product by $3.8 billion to $4 billion.
The emphasis Monday on the economic factor followed a White House statement Friday expressing Reagan’s “regret” that Saudi Arabia had decided to buy arms and military facilities, including 50 Tornado combat aircraft, from Britain because Congress had blocked the Saudis from receiving U.S. arms.
White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said the sale by the British was “a $30 billion loss that American companies might be fairly upset about.”
On Monday, the administration official also warned that Kuwait wants advanced fighters that will serve them into the 1990s, and “if we don’t sell it to them, they will go elsewhere.”
Almost on cue, Brithish Defense Minister George Younger, who signed the Saudi arms sale agreement in Bermuda last week, arrived in Kuwait Monday stressing that he was ready to discuss any arms that Kuwait might want to buy.
The administration official’s remarks came Monday as he briefed reporters on a visit to Washington by the Kuwaiti prime minister, Crown Prince Sheik Sa’ad Abdullah al-Salim.
The briefing and questions were almost entirely on the proposed sale, which includes 40 F/A-18 fighter planes, 300 Maverick “G” missiles, 200 Sparrow missiles, 120 Sidewinder missiles, 40 Harpoon missiles, 400 laser-guided bombs and 200 cluster bombs.
The remarks appeared aimed at Congress, whom Fitzwater blamed for the Saudi decision to buy the British arms. Nevertheless, Congress appears ready to go ahead to block the sale, or at least part of it.
Rep. Lawrence Smith (D-Fla.) plans to introduce a resolution Tuesday to reject the sale. He already has 86 co-signers, according to a spokesman for the congressman.
The Senate, meanwhile, adopted an amendment to the foreign aid bill last week, which bars sale of Mavericks until Sept. 30, 1989, the end of the 1989 fiscal year.
The White House immediately called the Senate action “precipitous” and “damaging to U.S. foreign policy interests.”
The administration official maintained Monday that the sale must go through “intact,” and that the “Maverick missiles are an integral part of this package.” He indicated that Kuwait will reject the sale if the Maverick is dropped.
Attempting to assuage congressional concern that the sale will endanger Israel, the official stressed that “one of the tenets of our arms sales policy is that we will do nothing that will in any way significantly alter the Arab-Israeli military balance.”
He said the sale would not change “Israel’s technological military edge.”
MAINTAIN SECURITY RELATIONSHIPS
“At the same time we have very important interests in the Arab world, in the Middle East,” the official said. He said it was “very important that the United States maintain these arms sales and maintain the security relationships that come with these arms sales.”
He said the real issue is “whether the United States is prepared to support a friendly Arab state in the Persian Gulf to meet its selfdefense requirements, at a critical time when the United States has made a massive investment of its resources” in the Gulf to protect oil shipments, keep navigation open and prevent intimidation of the countries there.
The official also noted that Kuwait has played an important part in the international fight against terrorism. He said the prime minister arrived in the same plane and with the same crew that was hijacked to Algeria recently.