WASHINGTON — President Bush has informed Congress that he may authorize the sale of 315 front-line Abrams tanks to Saudi Arabia and 200 to Kuwait while providing a third Arab country, the United Arab Emirates, with 40 F-18 fighter jets, sources said today.
Egypt, meanwhile, would get 150 Hawk missiles and Israel 200 shoulder-fired Stingers, while Jordan again would receive no American weapons this year, said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The potential Arab purchases could touch off another row with Israel's supporters in Congress, who were successful during the Carter and Reagan administrations in blocking U.S. sales that were considered threatening to the Jewish state.
But the skillful management of James A. Baker III, then the White House chief of staff and now secretary of state, and other Reagan Administration operatives overcame stubborn resistance to the sale of AWACs radar planes to Saudi Arabia that the Senate approved 52 to 48.
The Abrams tank is considered the best in the world. Recently, U.S. and Egyptian officials completed arrangements for co-production in Egypt with the aim of providing the Egyptian army with them.
The weapons list sent to Congress is classified. Rep. Lee H. Hamilton (D-Ind.), chairman of the House foreign affairs subcommittee that deals with the Middle East, is understood to have cautioned other members of Congress and staff aides not to leak any of the items.
Meanwhile, the White House, in a cover letter, informed Congress that the Saudis were in the process of deciding whether to request U.S. or European fighter planes to replace their F-5s in the next decade, the sources said.