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Sale of Arms to the Saudis

June 05, 1986

As the House sponsor of the resolution opposing the sale of new missiles to Saudi Arabia, I wanted to respond to your editorial (May 27), "Case for Saudi Arms."

The lopsided votes--73 to 22 in the Senate, and 356 to 22 in the House--reflect the deep frustrations of members of Congress over Saudi Arabia's role in the Middle East and the fact that there is general congressional agreement that U.S. policy with respect to Saudi Arabia has not been a productive one for us.

It was the result as much of Saudi Arabia's own image and actions as it was of the intensive efforts of the bipartisan group from across the political spectrum who were united by our deep concern about U.S. arms sales to a country that has not only failed to support our interests in the Middle East, but has actively opposed them.

The President assured Congress in 1981 that, if we sold AWACS planes to Saudi Arabia, the Saudis would assist us in pursuing peace in the region. We sold them the planes. They refused to assist us to achieve peace.

For nearly two decades the United States has been almost reflexively granting Saudi arms requests. But our policy has neither yielded Saudi support for key U.S. initiatives, nor resulted in Saudi cooperation in advancing U.S. security interests in the Middle East. In fact, selling arms seems to be our only policy with respect to Saudi Arabia--irrespective of its sensitivity to our own interests in the region. What have we gotten for this policy?

Central to U.S. interests in the Middle East is broadening the Camp David peace process. Yet the Saudis continue to isolate Egypt for its willingness to pursue peace with Israel. Vital to our Middle East policy is combatting terrorism. Yet, according to the State Department, the Saudis give about $90 million a year to the Palestine Liberation Organization. Other reliable estimates run as high as $250 million. According to the Defense Department, the Saudis give up to $500 million a year to Syria. The PLO and Syria encourage and protect terrorists, and are implicated in the murder of hundreds of Americans, including the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut.

This is a sorry track record, and sorrier still is the U.S. assumption that we can buy Saudi help with arms sales. Simply stated, our policy has not helped us achieve our goals in the region.

There are no compelling reasons to continue this policy. If the Saudis want U.S. cooperation, they should give us theirs. This missile sale is an entirely appropriate place to halt our unproductive policy.

The Times is correct in stating that ". . . the United States ought to be doing what it reasonably can do to maintain and cultivate its influence in the Arab world." But our past attempts to use arms sales to buy that influence have failed.

The United States and Saudi Arabia have many definable mutual regional interests. These include reduced tensions, a resumption of the peace process, and concerted efforts to deal responsibly with terrorism. Defeat of this arms sale does not mark the end of U.S.-Saudi relations. It is an effort to send the message to the Saudis that their support for our policies and interests is long overdue.

This is entirely reasonable. We hope they will get the message.

MEL LEVINE

Member of Congress

27th District

Santa Monica

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