US: praise for the man, doubts about the region
The personal impact of the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat was Evident in a statement by President Reagan, who praised the late Egyptian leader as a "courageous man whose wisdom and vision brought people together. . . ."
Speaking outside the White House Tuesday, the President said that Sadat was a "humanitarian unafraid to seek peace."
"The US has lost a close friend, the world has lost a great statesman, and mankind has lost a man of peace," he added.
But along with the praise from the President and other US officials came speculation about the event' effect on Mr. Reagan's Mideast policy, especially as reflected in his controversial plan to sell AWACS surveillance aircraft to Saudi Arabia.
Early congressional reaction regarding the assassination's impact on the AWACS sale provided a mixed picture:
* Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R) of Utah emerged from a meeting with President Reagan Tuesday afternoon saying that he would support the sale. Noting that he was one of the 50 senators initially objecting to the sale, he said, "If there's ever a time to support the President, it's now. . . . I'm going to support the President on the AWACS decision and I hope my colleagues will, too."
* Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R) of Indiana echoed the theme that this of all times is not the time to give the President a foreign policy defeat.
* Rep. Clement J. Zablocki (D) of Wisconsin, chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, postponed his committee's scheduled vote on the AWACS sale until Oct. 7 because of events in egypt. But the congressman, who has favored the sale of AWACS to Suadi Arabia, said the he now felt the administration should reassess the sale.
* Sen. Larry Pressler (R) of South Dakota, who until now was undecided, said that the White House should withdraw the planned sale for the time being because of the instability in the region.
Former CIA director Stansfield Turner, while expressing doubts as to Saudi Arabia's need for the sophisticated AWACS, said that Sadat's death "should help persuade the Senate that given the fragile nature of the situation in the Mideast, we should not aggravate the situation by turning the Saudis down. The US cannot afford to do anything but play a positive role in the Mideast."
Events in Egypt are likely to be used by both sides in the debate, political observers here say.
Opponents of the sale likely will argue that Sadat's assassination underscores the basic political instability that seems to permeate the region. Hence, they say, there is no way to guarantee the security of the AWACS technology if it's introduced into Saudi Arabia.
Supporters of the sale, on the other hand, may be expected to argue that now more than ever, Riyadh urgently needs the aircraft for added protection, and that it is imperative that the US show the world (notably other Mideast nations and the Soviet Union) a strong, united posture in its Mideast policy. The best way to achieve that, the argument goes, is to support the President's position.
Sen. Charles Percy (R) of Illinois, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, praised Sadat's "boldness and courage" in making his momentous trip to Jerusalem to further the cause of Middle East peace. Senator Percy added that the death of the Egyptian leader underscored "the necessity of having relations with more moderate elements in the Arab world."