As the White House labors mightily to persuade a reluctant Senate to approve its proposed arms sale to Saudi Arabia, a 9 to 8 vote disapproving the deal in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Oct. 15 made the task no easier.
The administration seeks to sell an $8.5 billion air warfare package to Saudi Arabia, which includes five airborne warning and control system (AWACS) aircraft.
"The danger of compromise of military secrets in our AWACS and our AIM-9L missiles is just too great," exclaimed Sen. Alan Cranston (D) of California, in opposing the deal. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D) of Delaware added that the sale is "not going to enhance Saudi security in any way."
The House delivered a resounding though expected blow to the sale Oct. 14 when it disapproved it by 301 votes to 111.
In attempting to persuade the Senate committee vote to do otherwise, James L. Buckley, undersecretary of state for security assistance, science, and technology, declared that AWACS "cannot be used to pose a realistic threat to Israel's security."
In his Oct. 15 testimony, Mr. Buckley claimed that the recent Iranian air attack on Kuwait's oil facilities "underscored the need for our friends to acquire adequate air defense systems." He warned that the Iranian attack and President Sadat's murder lend themselves to exploitation by the Soviets and by the racial Arab states whom "the Soviets have so lavishly supplied."
Although the President has made some headway in winning over senators opposed to the sale, current indications are that he has not wooed a sufficient number to ensure its passage. According to Sen. john Glenn (D) of Ohio, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as many as 57 senators may be opposed to it. It would only take 51 votes in the Senate to kill the deal.
But in an apparent bid to give the President more time to employ his persuasive powers on senators, Howard H. Baker Jr. (R) of Tennessee, the Senate majority leader, has postponed a vote on the arms package that was to have taken place Oct. 20. The Senate now will vote on it during the last week of October.
Somewhat predictably, the Senate Armed Services Committee endorsed the Saudi arms sale Oct. 15 by a vote of 10 to 5.
But the move also sparked vigorous dissent. In a joint statement, four of those committee members opposing the sale -- Sens. Henry M. Jackson (D) of Washington, Howard W. Cannon (D) of Nevada, Gary Hart (D) of Colorado, and Carl Levin (D) of Michigan -- declared that the possible compromise or loss of the advanced technology embodied in AWACS and its potential offensive applications "would jeopardize US security and provoke regional instability."
The quartet of senators deemed the arms sale "not in the national security interests of the US."
The statement added that of "crucial importance" are "permanent command and control arrangements whereby the United States will be able to protect the technology, assure the appropriate and prudent use of this equipment, and commit full interoperability with allies."
The President has been notably unable to win over Sen. William S. Cohen (R) of Maine, the fifth member of the Senate Armed Services Committee who opposes the sale. But he has been able to persuade Sen. Dan Quayle (R) of Indiana to change his position. The President has also wooed Sen. Ted Stevens (R) of Alaska and Sen. Mack Mattingly (R) of Georgia. Sen. S.I. Hayakawa (R) of California, who had been leaning against the sale, called President Reagan Oct. 15 to say he was voting in favor of the sale.
Senator Glenn said he found "very disturbing" a report in the Wall Street Journal of Oct. 14 that the White House was offering inducements to those who would vote for the arms sale. He branded such tactics "abhorrent" and "political bribery." The White House has denied any underhanded tactics.