Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

Congress Will Not Be Asked to Act on Sale of Awacs to Saudis Until After Labor Day

July 30, 1981
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The Reagan Administration announced today that it will not send to Congress its proposal to sell Saudi Arabia AWACS reconnaissance planes and other sophisticated military equipment until after Labor Day.

The announcement came in the form of a statement by State Department spokesman Dean Fischer that the Administration would not begin the 20-day informal notification period of Congress until after Congress returns from its summer recess. This does not mean that the notification to Congress would necessarily go to it in September, Fischer said.

He maintained that the decision on the timetable still depends on the advice to the Administration from Congressional leaders. The Administration has been postponing action since early May because leading Republicans in the Senate have advised that if the proposal was sent to Congress it would be rejected.

The 20-day information notification period which includes only working days, is followed by a 30-day formal period, in which the sale can be prevented if both Houses of Congress vote to reject the proposal.

The State Department announcement came a day after the resignation of Robert Neumann as Ambassador to Saudi Arabia reportedly because he had criticized Secretary of State Alexander Haig for, among other

things, not pushing the AWACS sale through immediately. Neumann, Ambassador to Saudi Arabia for only two months, had been in Washington for the past week lobbying Congress on the AWACS proposal.

Reportedly, he had criticized Haig to Senators and was quoted as saying the U.S. should “crack down” on Israel for its raids on the Iraqi nuclear reactor and the terrorist headquarters in Beirut.

Fischer maintained today that Neumann resigned for “personal reasons” as he stated in his letter of resignation to President Reagan and not over policy differences. The spokesman did acknowledge that “there were discussions leading” to Neumann’s resignation but refused to elaborate.

Neumann, a 65-year-old foreign policy analyst who headed the Reagan transition team at the State Department, will continue to serve the State Department as a senior consultant. Fischer said he will earn the usual consultant fee of $192 a day not to exceed the limits set for consultants of $51,112 a year. Fischer said Neumann will consult in his field of expertise noting that Neumann had been Ambassador to Afghanistan and Morocco as well as Saudi Arabia.

The position of senior consultant is the same as that to which Ernest Lefever was appointed after the Senate Foreign Relations Committee rejected him for the post of Assistant Secretary of State for Human rights. Consultants do not need to be confirmed by the Senate.

Meanwhile, Fischer said Richard Murphy, the 52-year-old diplomat who Reagan named yesterday to succeed Neumann, was flying directly to Jidda from the Philippines where he has been Ambassador since 1978. Fischer acknowledged that the ususal practice is for an Ambassador to be confirmed by the Senate and sworn in before taking up his post. But he said the U.S. places “high priorities” on its relations with Saudi Arabia. “We felt that it was important that we had a representative there right away,” Fischer said.

Murphy, who was also Ambassador to Mauritania and Syria, has served most of his career in the Middle East. Before becoming an Ambassador he served in posts in Syria, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.


On another Mideast issue, Fischer said that the U.S. found the dogfight between Israeli and Syrian jets over Lebanon today “disturbing and we hope there will be no repetitions. We continue to urge all involved to exercise maximum restraint.”

Fischer refused to say whether the U.S. considered Israel’s reconnaissance flights over Lebanon a violation of the cease-fire. He referred to his statement Monday when he said the flights were not armed actions.

Fischer stressed that the situation in the “area is fragile and delicate. Any actions which tend to increase tension are obviously of serious concern.” He specifically pointed out that everyone involved in the area, including the Syrians, have an interest in seeing that the cease-fire works.

Recommended from JTA