166. Memorandum From Jessica Tuchman of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1

SUBJECT

  • F–15 for Saudi Arabia

Les2 and I met this morning with Frank Moore and his staff at their request to discuss the Saudi F–15 sale. They have been getting indications that AIPAC has mounted a major campaign against the sale, visiting almost every member already. A copy of AIPAC’s briefing sheet is attached at Tab A,3 FYI. On the other hand, there is definitely a more balanced view prevailing now on the Hill,4 with more sympathy and understanding of the moderate Arab cause than has been the case in the past. (C)

After much discussion, the conclusion was that if at all possible, the sale should not be sent up until early March, for the following reasons:

—We need time to mount a major educational effort on the importance of the Saudi role in the mid-east peace process, as well as in the production and pricing of oil. If we are to win this one we must be able to recruit positive supporters—not just try to moot the opposition’s arguments as we did on AWACS. (C)

—Waiting until March might allow the F–15s to be sent up as part of a package including the Israeli sales, which would help immeasurably with passage. (C)

—After thinking about this for a while, the Senate people realized for the first time that this issue is likely to collide with Panama. 5 Many of the Senators we are depending upon to make our case on Panama, as well as those for whose votes we are negotiating, also have strong pro-Israeli records, and a political base in the Jewish community. Exam[Page 540]ples: Bentsen, Brooke, Case, Church, Glenn, Metzenbaum and Stone.6 They would be caught in the middle and might only be able to afford (particularly those who are up for reelection) to give the Administration one vote or the other, not both. (C)

These seem to us to be good reasons to delay sending up the Saudi sale for about one month. If Panama goes on schedule, the Saudi sale would still be early in the 20 day pre-notification period when the Panama vote takes place. There are only two drawbacks to this plan. First, it has to be made palatable to the Saudis. This shouldn’t be too hard if we tell them that we are definitely going with it and when. We should then be able to find some good reasons why it takes 30 days to prepare the papers. The other drawback is that waiting until the beginning of March means that the statutory 30 day consideration period will overlap with the 10 day March recess. This will be used to try to make us withdraw the sale and resubmit it later—just as happened last summer with AWACS. (C)

RECOMMENDATION:

That the Saudi F–15 sale not be sent up to the Hill for approval until the first week in March (assuming Panama stays on schedule) and that every effort be made to send it up in a package with the Israeli and Egyptian sales. (C)

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 67, Saudi Arabia: 1–5/78. Confidential. Sent for action. Copies were sent to Schecter, Pastor, and Sick.
  2. Reference is to Leslie Denend.
  3. Not attached.
  4. Assistant Secretary of State for Congressional Affairs Douglas Bennet sent Vance a briefing memorandum on January 27 outlining the congressional factors concerning the F–15 sale to Saudi Arabia. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P860124–0987)
  5. Reference is to the ratification debate concerning the Panama Canal treaties, which Carter and Panamanian leader Brigadier General Omar Torrijos Herrera signed in September 1977.
  6. Senators Lloyd Bentsen (D-Texas), Edward Brooke (R-Massachusetts), Clifford Case (R-New Jersey), Frank Church (D-Idaho), John Glenn (D-Ohio), Howard Metzenbaum (D-Ohio), and Richard Stone (D-Florida).