President vows to arm Saudis despite Israeli opposition
By stressing that "it is not the business of other nations to make American foreign policy," President Reagan has sent a clear warning to Israel, and its Prime Minister, Menachem Begin, not to interfere with his efforts to arm Saudi Arabia.
Asserting that a proposed sale of an arms package to the Saudis poses "no threat to Israel, now or in the future," Mr. Reagan, at his fourth press conference since taking office, said that the transaction is needed "to defend the oil fields on which the security of the free world depends."
"We will not permit Saudi Arabia to be an Iran," he said, seeking to address concerns that the AWACS could fall into enemy hands should the Saudi royal family be overthrown, in the same way other sophisticated American weaponry went astray when the Shah of Iran fell. Mr. Reagan said he would "guarantee" that the sale would not compromise American security. However, in attempting to assuage those concerns, Mr. Reagan seemed to hint there might be greater American involvement in Saudi Arabian affairs.
"There is no way," he added, "that we can stand by and see (Saudi Arabia) taken over" because of its strategic importance as an oil supplier to the West.
The package would include Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) planes to the Saudis -- a move which Israel has branded as a threat to its security. However, the President's tough language signalled that he is willing to brook Israeli displeasure -- and go head-to-head with the so-called "Jewish lobby," to push through the sale.
The President said he believes chances for Senate approval of the arms sale package were "good." Other commentators, however, are predicting that Mr. Reagan may suffer his first major legislative defeat over the issue.
Mr. Reagan, looking strong and rested (he told this reporter on the way out that "I never felt better in my life -- I'm fully recovered") also had a message for the Soviets.
The President also underscored the importance he attaches to the tax and budget cuts that took effect yesterday. Noting that the national debt has now topped the $1 trillion mark, called that figure a monument to failed economic policies. And he promised more of the same budget-cutting that has become the hallmark of his administration, vowing that would sign no congressional spending bill that would "bust the budget" of the US.
Mr. Reagan noted that short-term interest rates have declined slightly and that the prime rate has dropped a point and a half since he took office. The yield on some Treasury notes has dropped from around 16 percent to about 14.5 percent, he added.
But that may be of little comfort to the investment community unless the President can cajole an increasingly reticement Congress to enact additional reductions in federal spending for fiscal 1982. Without those cuts, many private analysts say his chances for balancing the federal budget in 1984 are slim.
Mr. Reagan denied that his spending cuts were having adverse social impacts.
"What do you say to single working mother who's cut off from food stamps?" the President was asked.
"I don't believe we're actually doing that," he replied. Spending cuts were not meant to have a deleterious impact on the country, he said, explaining they were merely the result of a reordering of government priorities.
Once again using "props" to emphasize a point, Reagan held up in one hand what he described as 318 pages of outgoing regulations and in the other six pages of regulations for new block grant programs. He estimated that 105 million man-hours will be saved by government workers due to this streamlining of regulations. Despite some "errors and confusion," he said, the safety net to protect the nation's needy still will be in place and that benefits will be maintained.
Pledging his strong support for the Voting Rights Act "in principle," the President said he was gratified by the support he has received from blacks. Allowing that many black leaders and groups have been critical, he mentioned receiving letters from two blacks, a teen-age boy and a young father, who backed his economic programs.
Chided for alleged ostentatiousness in the White House, the President took particular issue with one widely publicized charge: that Mrs. reagan had splurged on new white House china. He pointed out that there has been no new china for the White House since the Truman administration.
On the subject of the other China, the President expressed doubt that he would travel to the People's Republic by next spring, saying that the press believes that "presidents only travel when they're in trouble: I don't plan to be in trouble next spring."