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Ronald Reagan Administration: Statement on Senate Approval of the Sale of AWACS to Saudi Arabia

(October 28, 1981)

The President. I want to express my gratitude to the Members of the United States Senate for their approval of the sale of the AWACS defense system to Saudi Arabia. Today, I think, we've seen the upper Chamber at its best. The United States Senate has acted with statesmanship, with foresight, and with courage.

I can't fully express my gratitude to Senator Baker and the other Senate leaders, Democrats as well as Republicans, who played such a crucial role in this decision.

Today's action by the Senate will not only strengthen Saudi-American relations but will also protect our economic lifeline to the Middle East, win favor among moderate Arab nations, and most important, continue the difficult but steady progress toward peace and stability in the Middle East.

We've acted in concert to demonstrate that the United States is indeed a reliable security partner. Our friends should realize that steadfastness to purpose is a hallmark of American foreign policy, while those who would create instability in this region should note that the forces of moderation have our unequivocal support in deterring aggression.

This vote alone doesn't mean that our security problems in that part of the world have been completely solved. This package is but a part of our overall regional security strategy. Our strategy seeks to enhance the capacity of friendly states to defend themselves and to improve our own ability to project our own forces into the region should deterrence fail. We'll continue to pursue efforts in both areas.

Our support for the security of Israel is, of course, undiminished by today's vote. The United States will maintain its unshakeable commitment to the security and welfare of the State of Israel, recognizing that a strong Israel is essential to our basic goals in that area.

Much work still remains ahead. I trust that all of us who disagreed openly and vigorously in recent days can now put aside our honest differences and work together for common goals -- friendship, security, and peace at last, in the cradle of our civilization. Because of actions like today's by the Senate, the cause of peace is again on the march in the Middle East. For this, all of us can be grateful.

Q. When did you know that you had won?

The President. When they came in and handed me the votes.

Q. Didn't you know earlier today that you could count it up?

The President. A little while ago, this afternoon, I felt that the count was -- that at least we were going to be assured of a tie. And that would have been a victory, because it required a majority vote to stop this.

Q. Do you think this will be an inducement to get the Saudis into the Middle East peace process now?

The President. Yes, I do. I think that, as a matter of fact, the Saudis have shown by their own introduction of a peace proposal that they are willing to discuss peace in the Middle East.

Q. With Egypt and Israel?

The President. Yes, they submitted a plan. We couldn't agree with all the points, nor could the Israelis, but it was the first time that they had recognized Israel as a nation, and it's a beginning point for negotiations.

Q. What do you think this vote means for your ability to conduct the office of the Presidency?

The President. I think that it's going to have a very good effect. We had heard from many leaders who had expressed their concern about what this could mean in the whole world scene, if it had not turned out the way it did.

Q. Do you think it will help you put the budget fight ahead? The next budget round?

The President. I don't know. I don't know whether the two are connected at all.

Q. What aspect of what you told the Senators did you think was the convincing aspect, and what final thing do you think turned the tide in the last few days?

The President. Well, contrary to some of the things that have been said, there have been no deals made. None were offered. I talked strictly on the merits of the proposal. And basically I tried to point out, in every instance, the progress that has been made so far in the Middle East towards stability and peace and the part that was played in that by Saudi Arabia and Prince Fahd, beginning with the cease-fire that we were able to secure in Lebanon, in which they played a major role. And I simply played on that; that this, I felt, was essential for the security of Israel, for the entire Middle East, and for ourselves on the world scene.

Q. Do you foresee any circumstance under which, by 1985, this sale might be canceled if the Saudis aren't cooperating in the Middle East?

The President. Well, I would think that the only thing that could happen to make us not fulfill that would be if by some chance, the radical elements that we know are there and that have made themselves tragically evident in the last few weeks, that if they should gain control in the Middle East and gain control of all of those governments we're talking about, I think the very fact of what we've done and the knowledge now that the United States and our allies are not walking away from the Middle East is going to contribute to the stability and make it very unlikely that the other can happen.

Q. A big smile, Mr. President.

The President. I'm trying to smile with dignity. I don't want to look jubilant. [Laughter]

Sources: Public Papers of the President