Declaring that yesterday's Iranian air raid on Kuwait is "a dramatic and God-given warning" of Saudi Arabia's need for AWACS aircraft, Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. announced that the desert kingdom has agreed to impose a number of restrictions on its use of the planes it is seeking to buy from the United States.
But it is not certain that these concessions, announced by the secretary before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, would mollify senators who oppose to the AWACS sale.
The restrictions do not include obligatory joing manning of the AWACS aircraft which senators have been urging.
Secretary Haig said that Saudi Arabia has agreed to share all AWACS-derived data with the US on a continuous basis and promised not to divulge to other parties without US consent.
In addition, Haig noted that only carefully screened Saudi and Us personnel will be permitted association with AWACS. "Given the shortage of Saudi air crews and technicians this means that there will be an American presence in the aircraft and on the ground well into the 1990s," Secretary Haid declared.
Saudi Arabia has also agreed not to operate AWACS outside its airspace, Haig said, adding that "extensive and elaborate security measures" will be instituted to safeguard AWACS equipment and technology.
US inspection teams will monitor the performance of all equipment associated with the surveillance planes and special facilities will be constructed to give round-the-clock security protection against what the secretary called "unauthorized entry."
Haig claimed that the information sharing arrangement with the Saudis will give US forces early warning of hostile activities in the Gulf. He maintained that the sale of the air warfare package to Saudi Arabia will "bolster Saudi capabilities to defend their country and their crucial oil facilities," and will demonstrate "that we take Saudi security needs seriously and can be counted on to help."
Secretary Haig told the Senate committee that "this package of safeguards and agreements addresses the fundamental concerns that have been voiced about the sale and also reflects a Saudi willingness to work with us."
He insisted that the proposed AWACS sale contributes "importantly" to US strategy in the Middle East, one aim of which is to strengthen "the defense capabilities of our friends."
He said that the Iranian air raid on oil installations in Kuwait had been detected by the US Air Force AWACS already deployed in Saudi Arabia. Had the Iranian air strike been directed at Saudi Arabia, he said, Saudi fighters backed up by AWACS aircraft and armed with AIM-9L air-to-air missiles would have "successfully engaged it."
The secretary's assertions failed to persuade one committee member, Sen. Claiborne Pell (D) of Rhode Island, who told Mr. Haig that he would not be satisfied with less than total US control of AWACS in SaudiArabia. "There is a genuine security risk in transferring sensitive high technology items to an unstable area of the world where that technology could end up in unfriendly hands," he said.