WASHINGTON — Despite strong opposition by pro-Israeli lawmakers, President Reagan will ask Congress later this month to approve the sale of more than $1 billion in arms to Saudi Arabia, Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) said Tuesday.
Cranston, who vowed to lead the opposition to the Saudi sale, said the Administration erred by making the request at the same time that Congress is poised to deny a similar sale of $1.9 billion in advanced arms to Jordan.
But congressional sources predicted that the Administration will soon withdraw the Jordanian proposal rather than suffer an embarrassing defeat.
Missiles and Copters
In the Saudi deal, Cranston said, the Administration will seek permission to sell the Riyadh government 1,600 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles at a cost of $160 million; 800 shoulder-fired Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, $85 million; 12 Black Hawk combat helicopters, $250 million; 90 Harpoon anti-ship missiles, $100 million, and advanced equipment for F-15 and F-5 aircraft, $450 million.
Administration officials acknowledged Tuesday that a Saudi proposal is being drafted. However, they declined to confirm the specifics of the proposal as outlined by Cranston, who said he expects notification of the intended sale to reach Congress when it reconvenes Jan. 21.
Cranston said he has already obtained the support of 58 other senators who will co-sponsor a resolution to halt the Saudi sale. Last year, a similar bloc of pro-Israeli senators persuaded the Administration to drop its request to sell 40 F-15s to Saudi Arabia.
"I'm going to be leading the fight against this sale," Cranston said. "Saudi Arabia is still bankrolling the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) and Syria--the protectors of terrorists who have murdered Americans and torn Lebanon asunder. Saudi Arabia has frustrated the fitful efforts of (Jordan's) King Hussein to move forward in the peace process with Israel."
Cranston noted that in 1981, when Reagan won congressional approval to sell the Saudis an AWACS radar surveillance plane, the President said that future deliveries would take place only "if initiatives of the peaceful resolution of disputes in the region have either been successfully completed or significant progress toward that goal has been accomplished with the substantial assistance of Saudi Arabia."
"Clearly," the senator added, "none of these conditions have been met. The Saudis maintain a state of war with Israel, push the boycott and do not recognize Israel's right to exist."
But Administration officials expressed confidence that the Saudi sale will be approved by Congress. "We've had a defense relationship with Saudi Arabia since World War II, and I can't imagine that we're going to unilaterally end that," a State Department official said.
Reagan is expected to argue that by prohibiting the sale, Congress would only be forcing the Saudis to buy the goods from other countries.
Shortly after the Administration withdrew its request to sell the F-15s to the Saudis last year, officials in Riyadh announced that they had completed an arms deal with Britain that included the purchase of 48 British-made Tornado combat jets.
But opponents of the deal contend that the Saudis do not have a genuine defensive need for the equipment. "The Saudis face a diminished threat from Iran's forces, which the Saudis can already overwhelm," Cranston said.
The law allows an arms deal to take place 30 days after Congress has been notified of it by the Administration unless the House and Senate pass a resolution of disapproval.
A spokesman for Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he expects the Saudi sale to have more support in Congress than the proposed arms sale to Jordan, which will be voted on by March 1 unless it is withdrawn by the Administration.
The Senate was on the verge of defeating the Jordanian sale last October when Lugar worked out an agreement with opponents to delay the matter. Under the agreement, Reagan cannot sell arms to Jordan before March 1 unless he certifies that Jordan has entered into "direct and meaningful" negotiations with Israel.