WASHINGTON (Sep. 23)
President Bush is still committed to a $21 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia, but will now split the package into two phases, Secretary of State James Baker confirmed Sunday.
“The president has not backed off” from the package, Baker stressed in an appearance on the NBC News television program “Meet the Press.”
He explained that after “extensive consultation” with Congress, it was decided to submit only arms that are needed by Saudi Arabia for its defense against the current threat from Iraq.
This package will be sent to Congress in the next week, and the administration “would expect to see action on that immediately,” Baker said.
He said the second and much larger part of the package would be sent to Congress next January or February, after the new Congress is sworn in.
The White House announced the decision to split the package Friday, after meetings with members of Congress, many of whom voiced concern about the size of the sale, by far the largest ever to Saudi Arabia.
Although an arms sale to Saudi Arabia had been expected to sail through Congress without much opposition from supporters of Israel, the amount and type of weapons to be sold began to raise concern that Israel’s military superiority would be endangered.
Under the revised plan, the immediate sale is expected to include thousands of trucks and TOW anti-tank missiles.
Left for the second phases are the F-15 fighter planes and M-1 tanks, which caused the most concern among supporters of Israel.
The White House statement announcing the decision to split the package emphasized that the “United States has a close and valued relationship with its longtime friend Saudi Arabia.”
The arms sale “constitutes a key dimension of our overall strategy toward the Persian Gulf and could serve as well to protect American lives,” the statement said.