Washington (Oct. 5)
Secretary of State Alexander Haig warned members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today that they are suffering an “illusion” if they believe that a U.S.-Saudi Arabian joint command arrangement could be worked out in the sale of AWACS reconnaissance aircraft to the Saudis.
He added that negotiations over the $8.5 billion arms package have been completed with the Saudis and that he would not go back for further negotiations because he regarded that as “counter-productive” and “imprudent.”
Haig said that the type of joint command proposed by Sen. John Glenn (D. Ohio) “is simply not possible now. Therefore, there is absolutely no point whatsoever in comparing the present proposal with some imaginary, even highly desirable, joint command arrangement.” Glenn and most other committee members were not present as Haig returned for his second round of public testimony before the Senate body today.
THE ISSUES THAT MUST BE FACED
“The choice before us is not between these agreed arrangements and some still more favorable ones,” Haig told the committee. “The issue is whether U.S. interests are better served by the kind of surveillance system we are proposing or by the kind of system that would be supplied by Britain or by some other third country. That’s the issue,” Haig said.
He indicated that if the Senate rejects the arms sale, he would not be opposed to the Saudis seeking to buy the British Nimrod, a similar reconnaissance aircraft, or other equipment from Western Europe. He said that since the U.S. believes Saudi Arabia needs the surveillance equipment, it could not deny it the right to try to get it elsewhere if Congress refuses the sale.
Haig noted that if the sale is rejected, as now seems likely, it would damage U.S.-Saudi relations. “The question is not whether Saudi Arabia will join the ranks of our enemies,” he said. “The Saudis have been far ahead of us in recognizing and warning against the Soviet threat to the Persian Gulf. The question is whether Saudi Arabia will withdraw from a moderate leadership role and seek instead the protection that a lower profile affords.”
He warned that “The fragile cease-fire in Lebanon is a target of all those who oppose the Middle East peace process for they recognize that war in Lebanon could well make peace impossible.” Therefore, Haig said,” this is not a time to impose severe strains on relations with one of our closest friends in the region,” Saudi Arabia.
ISRAEL CAN JAM AWACS RADAR
The Secretary of State also stressed that the Reagan Administration is committed to “the continued American efforts to insure the qualitative (military) advantage now enjoyed by Israel” over the Arab states. He said Israel now has the capability to jam the radar on the AWACS.
Haig gave the committee a chart comparing the arrangements with Saudi Arabia for the AWACS sale to the standard arrangement for weapons sales to other countries. He noted that the arrangements with the Saudis contain many more restrictions. They include no flights beyond Saudi Arabia’s borders; no third country personnel to perform maintenance on the AWACS; exchange of data between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia at all times; and a ban on the transfer of data to other countries without the mutual consent of the U.S. and Saudi Arabia.
FORMER U.S. OFFICIALS APPROVE OF AWACS SALE
Meanwhile, President Reagan lunched today with a dozen former officals of past Administrations, including defense secretaries, national security assistants and chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who, according to the White House, expressed strong support for the AWACS sale.
A statement issued on behalf of the group warned that Congressional rejection of the arms package “would damage the ability of the United States to conduct a credible and effective foreign policy, not only in the Gulf region but across a broad range of issues.”
The White House said that former President Jimmy Carter, who Reagan contacted by telephone, backed the sale. Former Presidents Ford and Nixon did so earlier. White House press secretary Larry Speakers said the luncheon session would “demonstrate to doubters that there is strong support, going back over six administrations.” Among those present were the National Security Advisors to Presidents Johnson, Kennedy and Eisenhower.
Henry Kissinger, who was Secretary of State under Nixon and Ford, attended, but not Carter’s Secretary of State, Cyrus Vance, an outspoken opponent of the AWACS deal. Speakes said he did not know if Vance had been invited.
The White House spokesman said Reagan planned further meetings with key Congressmen this week to lobby for the sale. But Senate Majority leader Howard Baker of Tennessee conceded that as of now “we do not have the votes” to put it through. He said “it will take a massive effort and special dedication to get it worked out.”