A Washington routine -- and a non-sale for King Hussein
IF the President of the United States, supported by both the Department of State and the Department of Defense, had been able to do what they wanted to do in the interest of the foreign policies and security of the US as they see it, they would be announcing the sale to the Kingdom of Jordan of a package of air defense material including 40 fighter aircraft. The sale would be worth an estimated $1.9 billion to US armsmakers. It would have been part of the arrangements the State Department has tried to put together leading to negotiations between Israel and its Arab neighbors, with a long-term peace in the Middle East as the ultimate goal.
There will be no such sale of weapons to Jordan.
Secretary of State George Shultz wrote a letter to Senate leaders informing them that he was authorized by President Reagan to say that the administration will not proceed at this time with the intended sale, which was scheduled to go forward on March 1.
The decision to ``not go ahead'' with the sale to Jordan was taken at the White House after Republican Senate leader Robert Dole and the chairman of the Senate's Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, had informed Mr. Shultz that the opposition to the idea of selling weapons to Jordan was overwhelming. If the projected sale had not been deferred, a flood of bills to block the sale would have been introduced in both the House and Senate.
The two senators had to inform Mr. Shultz that there were enough votes to override a presidential veto.
Whether this was the final fatal blow to King Hussein's peace initiative of 1985 is a matter of speculation.
Most experts would probably say that the current round of peace talks had probably run out of steam before this happened. But whatever chance might still have existed has probably now been extinguished.
The question of selling arms to Jordan is not controversial inside the administration. It is not like the issue of negotiating with the Soviets over arms control. There you have the State Department in favor and the Pentagon opposed. There is strong disagreement among the President's top advisers on anything to do with arms control and the Soviets.
Peace in the Middle East is not like that. The Defense Department favored the earlier sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia as part of a broad effort to build a defensible military system in the Middle East in cooperation with the moderate and friendly Arab countries. The Pentagon wants to include King Hussein in those arrangements. He in turn would be happy to join in with the US. He would much prefer to get his weapons from the US than from other sources.
So here is a case where the executive branch of the government wishes to go ahead with a project which the President and his advisers believe to be in the US national interest and is blocked from doing so by the ability of the pro-Israel lobby to line up an overwhelming majority of votes in opposition.
The government of the US (meaning the executive branch) wishes to play an independent mediating role in the Middle East. It wishes to bring peace to the Middle East. To that end it wishes to be able to deal evenhandedly with the friendly and moderate Arab countries.
It cannot play such a role when one party, in this case Israel, can exercise a veto over any move the US wishes to make in the Middle East. This affair illustrates the fact that Israel, operating through the lobby of pro-Israeli Americans in Washington, can block at will any action it chooses to block.
None of this is really news. The pro-Israel lobby has been operating successfully since Nixon days. It lost once in the AWACs surveillance-plane affair.
But that was the last issue it lost.
Since then it has won in every test of its power.