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Bipartisan Opposition in Senate to U.s.-saudi Arms Sale

March 25, 1981
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Nineteen Senators–II Republicans and eight Democrats–spoke out in the Senate today against the Reagan Administration’s intention to provide Saudi Arabia with equipment to enhance the combat capabilities of the 62 F-15 warplanes they have purchased from the U.S.

The Administration has not yet formally notified Congress of its proposed sale of extra fuel tanks and air-to-air missiles to Saudi Arabia that critics say would create an additional threat to Israel. The Administration contends that the purpose of the equipment is to strengthen indigenous forces against Soviet penetration of the Middle East oilfields.

The Republicans who spoke in opposition to the sale are: Bob Packwood (Ore.); Larry Pressler (SD); Bob Kaster (Wisc.); David Durenberger (Minn.); Rudy Boschwitz (Minn.); Slade Gorton (Wash.); Robert Dole (Kan.); Alfonse D’Amato (NY); Arlen Spector (Pa.); John Heinz (Pa.); and Charles Mathias (Md.).

The Democrats are Bill Bradley (NJ); George Mitchell (Me.); Gary Hart (Colo.); Dennis De-Concini (Ariz.); Daniel Moynihan (NY); Carl Levin (Mich.); Quentin Burdick (ND); and Lawton Chiles (Fla.).


Packwood, who led off the discussion, said the Administration’s package for Saudi Arabia is an example of U.S. willingness “to barter integrity for energy.” Noting that the proposed equipment will improve the range of the Saudi planes by 80 percent, more than enough to attack Israel, Packwood recalled that he had opposed the original sale of the F-15s to Saudi Arabia in 1978 because he sensed at that time that they would be a threat to Israel.

Packwood recalled that at the time he had warned that the Saudis would not end their demands with the purchase of the F-15s as then constituted. “At the time our willingness to enter into the sale of the F-15s was posed as a test of our good will and friendship with Saudi Arabia,” Packwood said. “They (Saudis) indicated to us that if we weren’t willing to sell them they would certainly take that into regard in their relations with the U.S.” As a result, he said, “We were afraid they would cut off our oil supply if we didn’t sell.” Packwood suggested that the some thesis is developing now.

Dole said he opposed the sale because he felt it would increase insecurity in the Middle East and appears to be an effort to buy good will. He said however that he was willing to keep an open mind if it were proved that the sale affected Middle East security.

Levin expressed doubt that the planes would be effective against any threats the Saudis might face. “A realistic assessment indicates there are three distinct potential threats,” he said. These are “internal instability, typified by the Moslem fundamentalist of the kind that seized the mosque in Mecca; external command type raids against their oilfields; and finally and least likely, an invasion from Iraq or Iran and even less likely, by the Soviets.

“In none of these three cases will the offensive equipment contemplated in the President’s request be useful as either a deterrent or weapon,” Levin said.


Speaking in favor of the proposed sale, Sen. John Tower (R. Tex.) said the U.S. must aid indigenous forces in the area to defend themselves since the alternative, he suggested, would be to send American forces. He insisted that the Saudis were motivated by the Soviet threat rather than any desire to act offensively against Israel. He said the difference between the situation now and in 1978 when the F-15s were sold to Saudi Arabia include the facts that the Soviets are now in Afghanistan and an anti-American regime is in power in Iran.

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