Jordan presses US for arms aid as show of support for its Mideast peace efforts

The Reagan administration is in the throes of deciding when to ask Congress to provide military aid to Jordan in order to foster the Mideast peace process. According to informed sources, King Hussein recently sent a message to President Reagan expressing concern about a US arms commitment to Jordan made at the time of his visit to Washington earlier this year. The message was sent July 13, before the President went to the hospital for surgery, the sources say.

The administration backs arms sales for Jordan in order to bolster King Hussein's peacemaking efforts in the face of Syrian and other radical Arab opposition. But it has not submitted an aid request to Congress because of strong resistance there.

Last month the Senate approved $250 million in economic aid for Jordan but said it would consider military assistance only when direct peace talks with Israel got under way. The House has also voted economic aid.

On arms sales, the Jordanians are concerned because of a matter of timing.

The administration must notify Congress 50 days before an actual sale of advanced military equipment -- 20 days for informal notification and 30 additional days for formal notification. With Congress scheduled to go home for the year Oct. 30, the last date for administration action would be Sept. 10.

If the administration does not meet that deadline, the whole issue of Jordanian arms sales would slip into next year. King Hussein's worry, say the sources, is that failure to get some positive signal of support from the US on weapons would seriously undermine his peace efforts.

As a step toward eventual, direct Arab-Israeli negotiations, the monarch is trying to engage the US in a dialogue with a Jordanian-Palestinian delegation. The administration is now considering a list of Palestinians with whom a State Department official would soon meet.

The King envisages that such a meeting would lead to PLO leader Yasser Arafat's explicit recognition of Israel's right to exist, and of UN Resolution 242 calling for Israeli withdrawal from occupied territory in exchange for secure borders. This, in turn, would set the stage for US discussions with the PLO, some form of international framework, and finally direct talks between Jordan and Israel.

King Hussein is said to feel that he is carrying out his commitment to pursue the peace process. Now he looks to Washington to fulfill its military-aid pledge.

State Department officials are sensitive to the King's position. ``We recognize that there is an increased security risk in pursuing peace with Israel, and that has to be taken seriously,'' one official says.

``The Jordanians have said that they're not seeking peace with Israel to get arms. At the same time, when they're taking on a controversial initiative, there are ramifications in the region that some parties do not like.''

Syria, among others, is adamantly opposed to separate peace negotiations between Jordan and Israel. As Jordan has moved out front with its peace proposal, it has come under increasing pressure from the Syrians in the form of border infiltrations, airline attacks, and other terrorist activity.

The Jordanians first asked for more arms, including advanced fighters and equipment to upgrade their air-defense system, four years ago. But such aid has not gotten off the ground because it is vigorously opposed by the Israelis, who argue that it could be used against Israel.

As the administration seeks to build its case in Congress for arms sales to Jordan, it is expected to bring into play a recently completed interagency review of US strategic interests and security policies in the Middle East.

According to a State Department official, the comprehensive study reflects a consensus within the administration that Israel's military is stronger than ever and is likely to remain so.

Projecting ahead five to 10 years, says the official, the study concludes that the odds for a major Arab-Israeli war are negligible because of Israel's overriding military superiority.

Because of the opposition on Capitol Hill, the administration in June decided to postpone plans to sell Jordan advanced arms and requested only economic aid. The question now is whether it can persuade lawmakers to change their minds.

``We have to sell Congress on grounds that, one, Jordan needs the arms and, two, it cannot get a successful peace process unless it feels secure,'' says an administration official.

Since arms would not be delivered for some time, he adds, it is the symbolism that is important to Jordan.

``It would show that the US is willing to do things that are unpopular with Congress and Israel and willing to make commitments important to other countries,'' he says.

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