Administration defends sale of Stingers
Washington — As US command and control aircraft were taking part in the stepped-up air war over the Persian Gulf Tuesday, the Reagan administration's decision to ship new weapons and other military equipment to Saudi Arabia came under increased congressional attack.
In a Senate subcommittee hearing, Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike criticized the emergency shipment of 400 Stinger antiaircraft missiles and the dispatch of a KC-10 airborne tanker to Saudi Arabia last week as a deepening of US military involvement in the region. Their concerns were highlighted in midtestimony with the news that Saudi pilots, flying US-built F-15 jets and with the help of a US aerial tanker and a US AWACS radar-aircraft patrolling near the Gulf, shot down two Iranian F-4 Phantoms that had penetrated Saudi airspace.
Michael Armacost, undersecretary of state for political affairs, agreed that the administration would ''have to take another look at the War Powers Act requirements'' with this latest development. Reports to and approval from Congress are necessary whenever US military forces are in combat or are likely to face hostilities.
Secretary Armacost and other senior State Department and Pentagon officials defended the emergency shipment of the Stingers as a ''measured response'' designed to help Saudi Arabia defend itself against escalating attacks, and a ''political signal of . . . deterrence'' to Iran and other countries, including the Soviet Union.
The Pentagon also confirmed Tuesday that updated AWACS aircraft - capable of tracking ships as well as aircraft - also have been sent to Saudi Arabia.
Administration officials sought to assure senators that the shoulder-fired air defense missile would not fall into the hands of terrorists, particularly the enemies of Israel. They noted the strict requirements on accounting for and maintaining security over the Stingers.
Members of the Senate appropriations subcommittee on foreign affairs (which oversees foreign military aid) were particularly distressed that the shipment occurred over the Memorial Day weekend with Congress in recess.
''You have at the very least abused the consulting process,'' said Sen. Robert Kasten (R) of Wisconsin, subcommittee chairman. ''You have jeopardized not only the emergency authority you used in this case, but probably other emergency authority available to the administration in the Foreign Assistance Act and the Arms Export Control Act. Armacost said the administration ''has not made a final decision'' on selling Stingers to Kuwait.