WASHINGTON (Aug. 26)
The United States will not seek to sell its most sophisticated weapons to Saudi Arabia “in the short term,” Defense Secretary Dick Cheney assured a delegation of American Jewish leaders Friday.
Nevertheless, the Jewish leaders emerged from their one-hour meeting at the Pentagon concerned about any long-term plans for arms sales to the Saudis and uncertain about the fate of weapons sent into Saudi Arabia in the past few weeks once U.S. troops withdraw from the region.
Cheney assured the group that “none of the more advanced equipment would be (sold there) in the short term,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive director of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
But there was no specific discussion of what weapons would fall under that classification, said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith.
At the bare minimum, though, that heading would almost certainly include top-of-the-line F-15E fighter planes. What is unclear is whether the United States would also exclude in the short term such weapons as Stinger anti-aircraft missiles or Maverick anti-tank missiles.
Congress blocked sales of both those missiles to the Saudi kingdom in 1985 and 1986. Pro-Israel circles are concerned that the Stingers, which are transported easily, could fall into the hands of terrorists.
Cheney, who requested the meeting with Jewish leaders, praised the Jewish community’s stance of not opposing emergency U.S. aid to King Fahd’s regime.
The session was the first formal meeting of Jewish leaders with Cheney since shortly after he was named to the post last year. By contrast, U.S. Jewish leaders have met several times during the Bush presidency with Secretary of State James Baker.
‘REAL UNDERSTANDING AND SENSITIVITY’
“We assured Secretary Cheney that the American Jewish community fully supports President Bush’s policies and actions in addressing Iraq’s aggression. History has taught us that there can be no appeasement to an aggressor,” the delegation of 11 leaders said in a statement issued after the meeting.
Cheney also “expressed appreciation for our support for our government’s handling of these issues, including assistance for the defense of Saudi Arabia, to deal with the present emergency,” the leaders said.
They expressed little doubt that the United States would continue to bolster Israel’s defense against any array of opponents.
“We are confident that our government recognizes Israel’s strategic importance and will ensure that Israel maintains the qualitative edge essential to defend itself,” the statement read.
Hoenlein said that on the issue of maintaining Israel’s qualitative edge, “we found real understanding and sensitivity and support.”
For example, Cheney expressed “concern about any design that (Iraqi President) Saddam Hussein might have to attack Israel and rally the Arabs,” he said. Cheney also praised Israel’s “low profile” role in the crisis.
Cheney mentioned his support for continuing joint research with Israel on the Arrow anti-tactical ballistic missile. If and when the crisis subsides, Israel is hoping the Pentagon will draft a new memorandum of understanding that would detail cost-sharing and technology-sharing arrangements for Phase 2 of the program, which Israel is hoping to begin next spring.
The Jewish delegation raised the subject of Jewish soldiers and chaplains serving in Saudi Arabia, which has a policy of denying Jews entry to the kingdom.
Hoenlein said his group “had looked into” allegations that Jewish chaplains had not been granted approval to be sent to Saudi Arabia and that some Jewish soldiers had been told unofficially to hide dog tags identifying themselves as Jewish.
But they told Cheney they had found no basis for concern. “We consider the matter resolved, and we made that clear,” Hoenlein said.
The delegation was led by the dean of Jewish Republicans, Max Fisher, who is honorary chairman of the National Jewish Coalition, a Republican outreach group.