The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is virtually split down the middle over the proposed sale of 650 “Maverick” TV-guided missiles to Saudi Arabia proposed by the Administration. A decisive vote is expected Friday when the Committee will hold its last session before Congress adjourns Oct. 1 for the national elections. The debate turns in part on whether the Saudis would raise the price of their oil if denied the missiles or would be impelled not to for fear of antagonizing American public opinion.
The “Mavericks,” which cost about $600 million, represent only a tiny fraction of the $6 billion in contracts for military goods and services negotiated this year between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. These include the construction of naval bases, barracks and airports.
Sen. Clifford Case (R.NJ) moved to disapprove the “Maverick” sales at a closed door session of the Foreign Relations Committee yesterday. He was backed by Sen. Hubert H. Humphrey (D.Minn.). But Case withdrew his motion, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency was informed, after learning that Sen. Jacob K. Javits (R.NY) intended to vote against it. Javits is involved in negotiations with President Ford to reduce the number of missiles sold to Saudi Arabia.
In a related action, Sens. Joseph Biden (D. Del.) and Dick Clark (D.Iowa) were said to have moved to bar U.S. arms sales to all countries except Israel and NATO members. Their move was apparently offered to dramatize the need to review the entire U.S. arms sales policy.
The Committee apparently is not inclined to object to the sale of 850 more heat-guided “Sidewinder” missiles to Saudi Arabia since the Saudis are using them up at a rate of 165 a year for training purposes. Javits is credited with having succeeded in getting the Administration to reduce the number of “Sidewinders” from 900 to 850 and the number of “Mavericks” from 900 to 650.
MAY JOLT SAUDI ARABIA
If the Committee disapproves the sale of the “Mavericks” the Administration is expected to blame Congress for any subsequent increase in the price of Saudian oil. One official, who asked not to be identified, said that disapproval of the “Maverick” deal coming on top of the anti-boycott legislation in the Tax Reform Bill passed by Congress last week would jolt Saudi Arabia. He noted that the Saudis recently doubled their oil sales to the U.S. and are America’s largest supplier of imported petroleum.
Case and Humphrey regard the “Maverick” as an offensive weapon against ground targets. According to Case, the sale of “Mavericks” to Saudi Arabia would be a “disturbing and a potentially destabilizing factor in the balance of power equation in the Middle East.”
Assistant Secretary of State Alfred Atherton, testifying before the Foreign Relations Committee, characterized the proposed sale as “appropriate and responsible.” He said, “We believe Saudi Arabia would not engage in unauthorized transfer of U.S. equipment. They have never done so and we have ample evidence of how much they value their military supply relationship with us.”
Administration sources have stressed that use of the “Mavericks” requires specially equipped F-5 aircraft and only those F-5s provided Saudi Arabia possess the necessary equipment. Opponents of the deal argue that this ignores the possibility of the Saudis transferring the equipped planes to countries like Egypt or Jordan or using them itself directly against Israel.
The House International Relations Committee is awaiting the Senate action before acting itself but few legislative days remain for both Houses to act.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.