Washington — President Reagan is leaning hard on Republican senators to support him on the AWACS sale, and the "Reagan treatment" is paying off. A senate swing toward the President on this transaction with the Saudis now is being perceived -- the latest convert being Sen. Nancy Landon Kassebaum (R) of Kansas, previously uncommitted on the sale.
One excellent counter of GOP senators' votes -- Sen. Robert Dole (R) of Kansas -- says that as of now "the President has more than 30 Republican senators with him, plus quite a few Democrats."
Senator Dole, who is on record as opposing the sale, quotes Sen. Sam Nunn (D) of Georgia as saying: "The President was in the end zone -- now he is on the playing field."
Dole adds: We must remember that the President still has three weeks to put it together."
The President is by no means claiming victory yet. But he is described by aides as sniffing it.
At the same time, the leader of the opposition to AWACS among Republican senators, Bob Packwood of Oregon, seems to be softening his position a little.
In September, Senator Packwood and 50 other senators vowed to sponsor a resolution blocking the $8.5 billion AWACS package, which includes equipment to upgrade 60 F-15 fighters that Saudi Arabia is purchasing from the US.
Packwood's opposition has been based on his view that Saudi Arabia is purchasing from the US.
Packwood's opposition has been based on his view that "Saudi Arabia has swung a wrecking ball through the Middle East, doing everything possible" to stymie peace efforts in the region.
In he has said recently that a letter from Reagan might be designed that would incorporate "assurances" that would satisfy him and, thus, change his vote.
If this means that Packwood is slowly moving toward a compromise, then the President may be getting close to winning -- if he can persuade the Saudis to go along with the kind of assurances Packwood desires. Much congressional opposition to AWACS is directed at the possibility that the weapon will slip out of US control and into the hands of the Soviets.
Mr. Reagan met with 43 of the 53 GOP senators at the White House Oct. 7 and emphasized how important it was, particularly with the unsettled situation in the Mideast, that he be perceived as a President who has a firm hand on US foreign policy.
Reagan has made it clear that should he lose the AWACS vote, it would leave the impression that he was not in control of foreign policy.
Referring to the President's comments to the GOP senators assembled at the White house, Dole said that the President made a strong plea for party support. "He was really something," Dole said at a breakfast meeting with reporters Oct. 8.
Dole said the President sees this as a particularly critical moment for him -- that he must win on AWACS and get his new spending cut proposals implemented if his presidency is to succeed.
Meanwhile, AWACS lost out in the House Foreign Affairs Committee on a vote of 28 to 8. However, this defeat had long been anticipated by the administration. The Reagan people had tried earlier -- but unsuccessfully -- to get House vote on the sale delayed until the Senate Foreign Relations Committee had an opportunity to vote on it.
But movement toward Senate support of the sale is growing nonetheless. Sen. Alan K. Simpson (R) of Wyoming announced his shift from opposition to backing of AWACS. He joined Sen. Orrin Hatch (R) of Utah, who previously had swung behind the President.
Additionally, five undeclared senators -- Richard G. Lugar (R) of Indiana, John W. Warner (R) of Virginia, Jeremiah Denton (R) of Alabama, Harry F. Byrd Jr. (Ind.) of Virginia, and Sam Nunn (D) of Georgia -- have announced they would vote for the deal.