168. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Saudi Arabia1

25643. For Ambassador West. Subject: Presentation of F–15 Sale to Congress. Ref: Riyadh 086.2

1. Please see Crown Prince Fahd again at the earliest possible date, and make the following points:

—The President is pleased to inform King Khalid and the Crown Prince that he has decided to approve the Saudi request for 60 F–15 aircraft. We see this as an important dimension of the US-Saudi relationship and believe that it will contribute to the close ties that exist between our two countries and to the peace and stability of the Middle East.

—We want the Crown Prince to understand how we intend to proceed to insure the best possible climate in Congress for consideration of this sale.

—The Saudis should understand that the present mood in Congress is distinctly hostile to the sale. We clearly will have an uphill battle [Page 543]on our hands and we cannot guarantee the outcome. Because of the importance we attach to US-Saudi relations, however, we are prepared to deal with the controversy that this will inevitably produce.

—Secretary Vance has already begun consultations with leaders in the House and Senate on the F–15 sale, and Secretary Brown will do likewise. The President will also speak to congressional leaders. We will continue these preliminary consultations until Congress recesses for about ten days beginning February 10.

—On a case of this sort, we are obliged to give Congress informal advance (confidential) notification of 20 days before we send up formal notification, together with certain supporting information, of our intent to make a given sale. We intend this advance notification period to begin when Congress reconvenes in late February.

—After the 20-day informal period, Congress has 30 days during which to consider the case pursuant to our formal notification. We can expect that hearings will be held and administration witnesses will testify in support of the sale.

—If Congress does not act to prevent the sale, we will be prepared promptly to begin detailed discussions with the SAG to enable us to prepare and submit formal letters of offer and acceptance for its consideration.

2. We believe that our informing Fahd of the President’s decision to approve the Saudi request for F–15s and of the specific timetable for moving this issue before the Congress is responsive both to Fahd’s desire that we move promptly and also to the President’s commitment to do so. We trust that Fahd agrees.

3. You should say that, whereas the President wished King Khalid and Fahd to have this prompt word of his decision on the F–15s, we wish to keep the decision secret pending the informal advance notification which will go to the Congress in late February. We are consequently restricting the knowledge of the President’s decision to a very small number of people here, and hope that the SAG will do likewise. You should add at that point that there is already, however, intense interest in this subject in the Congress and the press, and we cannot exclude the possibility that there may be some premature leak. If that should occur, we will deal with it in the fashion that seems most appropriate at the time.

4. In light of the above, we do not rpt not see the need for you to come back personally to carry a letter from Fahd to the President and Secretary. You could tell Fahd that the flavor of intensity and urgency which has marked your recent discussions with him on the F–15 issue has come across clearly in the reports you have made of these discussions, and the President has had this in mind in asking that you now convey his decision to Fahd regarding the F–15s.

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5. Although it does not seem necessary for you to return to Washington at this time, we will need your help in our discussions with the Congress when the F–15 case is submitted to it. We will let you know more precisely when you should plan to be here to assist us.

Vance
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P850071–2524. Secret; Immediate; Nodis. Drafted by Quandt and Sober; cleared by Gelb, Saunders, Tarnoff, and Douglas Bennet (H); approved by Vance.
  2. See Document 167.