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Congressional leadership gets on board for arms sale to Kuwait

The Reagan administration and Congress have reached agreement on the $1.9 billion sale of F-18 jet fighters and missiles to Kuwait. ``Everybody's happy,'' says a well-placed administration official. ``This is an agreement carefully negotiated with the leadership of the Senate and the House. The Kuwaitis are fully on board. They are getting the planes and the munitions they need to meet the threat.''

The administration is particularly pleased. Officials say the sale reinforces United States Gulf policy of promoting moderate Arab regimes to assume more of their own defense burden. And it demonstrates US commitment to long-term defense relationships with its regional friends.

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Congressional opposition to the sale was undermined by the July announcement of a multibillion-dollar military sale by Britain to Saudi Arabia and by Kuwait's consideration of British planes as an alternative to the US-built F-18. This generated concern that the US was losing influence and jobs because of congressional opposition to sales to Arab countries.

The administration also effectively argued that Kuwait faces legitimate security threats from Iran and others and that US weapons would be less threatening to Israel than the alternatives available to Kuwait.

All sides conceded a bit to ensure agreement on the arms package. The administration and Kuwait agreed to drop sophisticated air-to-land antitank missiles, called Maverick-Ds, from the deal. They also provided written assurances about the delivery schedule and the use of the arms sold.

Congressional critics, many of whom had initially opposed the whole idea of a sale, not only agreed to the basics but also approved the sale of 300 sophisticated Maverick-G air-to-sea missiles to meet the potential threat from Iran.

Even Rep. Lawrence Smith (D) of Florida, originally the leading House opponent of the sale, announced his support for the final package.

A potential stumbling block to the sale remains an amendment passed by the Senate that would ban the sale of any Maverick missiles in the Gulf region. Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D) of Arizona, who is the author of the amendment, continues to support it.

Administration officials say, however, that they believe they have an agreement from the congressional leadership to support the full weapons package as re-negotiated.

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