149. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski) to President Carter 1

SUBJECT

  • F–15s for Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia was informed in 1974, after an extensive U.S. survey of their defense needs, that we were prepared in principle to sell them an advanced fighter aircraft to replace their aging fleet of 44 British Lightnings. In October 1976, Deputy Secretary of Defense Clements told the Saudi Defense Minister that he considered the F–16 the most appropriate fighter for Saudi Arabia, but “if you want the F–15, the choice is yours.” The Saudis have conducted their own extensive study and have informed us on several occasions that they prefer the F–15. Crown Prince Fahd will wish to have confirmation of the U.S. commitment during his visit to Washington next week. The pilot who conducted the Saudi Air Force study will accompany Fahd on the visit.

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Secretary Brown recommends that we agree to supply the F–15, subject to Congressional approval, with no commitment now on delivery dates.2

Secretary Vance recommends (Tab A)3 that a commitment should be made only to consult with the Congress concerning the possibility of selling an advanced aircraft to Saudi Arabia, with no commitment on the type of plane, numbers, and delivery schedules. State believes that it would be virtually impossible to get Congressional approval of the F–15 because of its extensive capabilities and complexity. They believe the lightweight F–16, while still very controversial, might have a better chance of success. State also proposes that any such commitment should be preceded by confidential consultations with key Congressional leaders.

There are two fundamental questions: (1) Should we try to persuade the Saudis to purchase the F–16 rather than the F–15; and (2) How should we handle this issue with the Congress?

F–15 vs. F–16

It is unlikely that the Saudis will be willing to consider substitution of the F–16 for the F–15. They want an air defense fighter, and have decided independently that the dual-engine, all-weather F–15 best meets their needs. Defense agrees that this choice is justified and is within Saudi capabilities to operate in the 1980s. The sale of any advanced aircraft will be extremely controversial, and we could not assure Prince Fahd that Congressional approval would be forthcoming if he chose the F–16.

Ultimately, the question is political. In the wake of the political events in Israel and the uncertainties which have been injected into the peace process, as well as the recent U.S. public affirmations of our special relationship with Israel on arms transfers,4 Crown Prince Fahd will be looking for a reaffirmation of the U.S.-Saudi security relationship as tangible evidence of our attitude toward the Arabs. Any evidence that we are backing away from previous commitments at this point could have a significant influence on the message he takes back to Asad and Sadat.

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Consultations with Congress

The basic disagreement between Defense and State is whether we should reaffirm our commitment subject to consultations with Congress (Defense) or commit ourselves only to consult with Congress, including advance consultation prior to Fahd’s arrival.

Advance consultations on more than a token basis are no longer a practical alternative in view of the imminence of Fahd’s arrival. Secretary Vance has informed us that he feels obligated to touch base with key Congressional leaders in advance of discussions with Fahd. Subject to your approval, he and Deputy Secretary Christopher intend to meet privately with Senators Humphrey, Case and Javits, as well as with Congressman Zablocki on Monday5 to discuss this issue. Secretary Vance agrees that any wider consultation with Congress at this point, given the extreme sensitivity on the Hill to the recent events in Israel, could set off a major confrontation with Congress while Fahd is in Washington.

I recommend that Fahd be told that we will respect the commitment of the previous Administration to sell Saudi Arabia an advanced fighter aircraft. We understand Saudi Arabia’s preference for the F–15. However, in view of the controversial nature of this proposed sale, we cannot assure Prince Fahd that it will receive Congressional approval. For that reason, and to avoid possible embarrassment to the Saudi Government, we would prefer to conduct confidential consultations with the Congress in advance of any formal announcement. We will inform him of the results as soon as possible.

Sidewinders and Mavericks

In addition to the F–15 question, Fahd will be looking for a confirmation of President Ford’s commitment to King Khalid that every effort would be made in the future to provide additional quantities of Sidewinder and Maverick missiles. This issue is fully discussed in Secretary Vance’s memorandum at Tab A (p. 4). Although State and Defense both recommend confirming the commitment to supply additional weapons, subject to Congressional approval, we believe that this could be politically untenable. You will recall the letter from Representative Rosenthal citing your campaign statement on this subject.6 That statement, in conjunction with the overall arms transfer policy, makes a commitment on Mavericks and Sidewinders at this time undesirable. I suggest that Fahd be informed, perhaps during your private talk with him, that raising the issue of Mavericks and Sidewinders at this time [Page 485]would be so controversial that it could seriously threaten other military programs for Saudi Arabia, including the advanced fighter. Unless he considers this to be critical to his defense, we would prefer to postpone consideration of this request until after the issue of the advanced fighter has been settled. In the meantime, the Saudis could be assured that we would maintain their stocks of Mavericks and Sidewinders at present levels, replacing those which are expended in training.

RECOMMENDATIONS:

That Crown Prince Fahd be informed that we will undertake consultations with the Congress in the near future on the sale of an advanced fighter aircraft, identifying the F–15 as the preferred choice of the Saudi Government.7

_____Approve.

_____Disapprove.

That you approve Secretary Vance and Deputy Secretary Christopher discussing the issue with Senators Humphrey, Case and Javits and Representative Zablocki.

_____Approve.

_____Disapprove.

That you inform Fahd in your private meeting that consideration of the sale of additional Sidewinders and Mavericks would best be postponed until after the issue of the advanced fighter has been settled.

_____Approve.8

_____Approve. Prefer that this be raised by Secretary Brown.

_____Disapprove. Proceed as State and Defense have suggested.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 67, Saudi Arabia: 1–8/77. Secret. Sent for action. Carter initialed the memorandum.
  2. Brown approved the recommendation in a May 11 action memorandum from Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Walter Slocombe. (Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OSD Files, FRC 330–80–0017, Saudi Arabia, 400–499, 1977, Folder 6)
  3. Not attached. In a May 19 memorandum to Carter, Christopher provided Vance’s recommendations. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P840134–0692)
  4. On May 12, Carter announced in a press conference that Israel would be accorded “special treatment” in U.S. arms sales and would receive advanced armaments. (Public Papers: Carter, 1977–78, Book I, pp. 866–867)
  5. May 23.
  6. Not found.
  7. Carter checked the Approve option for this and the following recommendation. Carter also initialed in the right-hand margin next to the first recommendation.
  8. Carter checked this option and initialed in the margin below. According to the President’s Daily Diary, Carter met privately with Fahd in the Oval Office between 10:35 a.m. and 10:55 a.m., May 24. (Carter Library, Presidential Materials) No memorandum of conversation of this meeting has been found. Immediately after that meeting, Fahd and Carter and U.S. and Saudi officials met until 12:30 p.m. See Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. VIII, Arab-Israeli Dispute, January 1977–August 1978, Document 36. Carter met privately with Fahd again on the morning of May 25. Notes of this meeting are in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. VIII, Arab-Israeli Dispute, January 1977–August 1978, Document 37.