Washington (Oct. 1)
Members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee indicated their continued opposition to the sale of five AWACS reconnaissance planes to Saudi Arabia despite the assurances given to them by Secretary of State Alexander Haig in both private and public testimony today.
Although the committee’s chairman, Sen. Charles Percy (R. III.) told reporters that “progress had been made” in the new arrangements worked out with Saudi Arabia, which were announced by Haig today, most members of his committee, Republicans and Democrats, said there was nothing new.
Sen. John Glenn, (D. Ohio), whose demand for joint control of the five AWACS had set off the flurry of new negotiations between the Reagan Administration and Saudi Arabia, said although he was “hopeful” that an agreement could be reached before the 30-day period the Senate has to vote on the proposal expires, he found nothing new in the new arrangements.
NO WRITTEN AGREEMENT NOW
Haig admitted to Glenn that the assurances given to the United States by the Saudis were “fundamental understandings” and not in writing as Glenn and other Senators had demanded. Haig said that the agreements would be put in writing over the course of the next several years and at least one year before the planes are delivered to Saudi Arabia. The first deliveries will begin in 1985.
Sen. Larry Pressler (R. S. D.) said he was opposed to the sale as it now stood and urged additional changes. But Haig said this was basically the “end of the line” for negotiations with Saudi Arabia on the sale. Haig said President Reagan is committed to this sale and will support it “win or lose.”
Pressler noted that he could not be accused of being a captive of the Israel lobby. He noted there was only one rabbi in all of South Dakota and said the rabbi was outnumbered by the state’s two Senators.
Pressler said that whatever happens will be a losing proposition. He said if the AWACS are rejected by Congress, then Israeli Premier Menachem Begin will be blamed for the defeat. He said if the sale goes through, Israel will then seek more military aid.
A similar point was made by Sen. Joseph Biden (D. Del.), who noted that United States security will be hurt if the sale is rejected since United States relations with Saudi Arabia will suffer. But he added, United States security would be even more damaged if the sale goes through.
Sen. Rudy Boschwitz, (R. Minn.) charged that the Saudis were seeking a “litmus test” of American friendship and would want something else if the current proposal for the $8.5 billion arms sales is sustained. He said since February, 1976, the United States has sold Saudi Arabia $35 billion in arms, including $12 billion since the sale of the 62 F-15s in 1978.
ATTACK ON KUWAIT SHOWED AWACS NEEDED
Percy noted that the importance of the AWACS sale was demonstrated by the reported Iranian air force attack on a Kuwaiti oil field last midnight. Haig agreed, noting that it was a “dramatic and I think God-given warning” on the need for the AWACS for Saudi Arabia. He said the U.S. AWACS now in Saudi Arabia “picked up” Iranian planes as they headed for the Kuwaiti oil fields and that an integrated air defense system would have knocked out the Iranian planes if the Saudis had the AWACS and such an attack was launched against Saudi oil fields.
Percy said the committee will continue hearings next Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and hopes to vote on Wednesday.