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Statement by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Speakes on Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia

May 6, 1986

This week Congress will turn to consideration of a missile sale to Saudi Arabia. On April 8 President Reagan notified the Congress of his intent to sell these air and sea defense missiles to the Saudis. These weapons are not new to Saudi Arabia; all have been sold previously and are already in the Saudi inventory.

The United States has vital interests in the Persian Gulf. They include supporting the security of friendly moderate States, countering radical forces, preventing Soviet expansion, and maintaining the free flow of oil. The sale will protect and advance our own interests in the following specific ways:

-- It supports Saudi air defense into the 1990's.

-- It continues a bilateral security relationship which has been supported by every President since Franklin D. Roosevelt and which remains the key to Gulf defense, to cooperation throughout the region, and to the search for peace.

-- Completing the sale now, even though the missiles will not be delivered for several years, makes clear that we support Saudi self-defense.

The missile numbers have been calculated by the U.S. Air Force as necessary to meet realistic threat projections in the period when they will be delivered. They present no threat to Israel and in no way undercut the absolute determination of the United States to preserve Israel's qualitative military edge in the region. These missiles are subject to stringent security safeguards. The Saudis have an outstanding record in this regard and have never allowed any U.S. weapon to fall into unauthorized hands. Moreover, if the United States fails to help the Saudis in this important area, they are certain to get the weapons they need from other sources who are unlikely to share America's concern for Israel's security.

The United States and Saudi Arabia have many similar interests beyond the Gulf, and our actions are often mutually supportive. They have helped in U.S. efforts to support moderate governments in Egypt, Jordan, and Sudan, and have worked quietly in the search for peace in Lebanon, in the Arab-Israeli conflict, and in the Iran-Iraq war. We are engaged in a critical struggle against Libyan-supported state terrorism. Saudi Arabia has consistently worked behind the scenes to discourage terrorism from any source.

Saudi Arabia is a firm friend of the United States. Our own interests require us to help Saudi Arabia meet its legitimate security needs in the face of growing regional threats. Therefore, the President strongly urges the Congress to support this important sale.