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Thursday, May 30, 1991 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Foreign Policy Dichotomy -- Bush Wants To Sell Arms In The Gulf But Calls For Curbs

Knight-Ridder Newspapers

WASHINGTON - While calling for new restrictions on missiles and weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East, President Bush is going ahead with plans to sell more than $34 billion in U.S. tanks, planes and other conventional arms to the world's most dangerous region.

That resolve - to continue supplying America's best weapons customers - vastly diminishes the effectiveness of any U.S. call to the international community to bring stability to the Middle East, some arms control experts said yesterday.

"This administration . . . is looking to continue most elements of security assistance and arms sales," said Janne Nolan, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a former U.S. negotiator for conventional arms talks with the Soviets. "It's not supposed to interfere with . . . ongoing arms transfers or relationships."

The United States has proposed more than $34 billion in conventional weapons sales to Middle Eastern buyers since the Persian Gulf crisis erupted last year. Senior Bush aides said the new plan would not affect these planned sales.

Instead of adopting a moratorium or pause in the sale of all conventional weapons to the region - as proposed by both Democrats and Republicans in Congress - Bush suggested only that the five major suppliers - Britain, China, France, the Soviet Union and United States - discuss guidelines for regulating sales.

Andrew Pierre, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, suggested that Bush "put his vision into practice and declare a moratorium, a pause, in our own sale of arms to the Middle East."

Bush proposed yesterday that the five major Security Council nations, the largest suppliers of arms to the Middle East, meet to agree on voluntary "guidelines on conventional arms exports." But the president added that the United States and others should continue "supporting the legitimate need of every state to defend itself."

"Every nation, including Iraq, has claimed that it buys arms to defend themselves," said Jack Mendelsohn, deputy director of the Arms Control Association and a former U.S. arms negotiator. The Soviets and the United States were primary suppliers of the major weapons Saddam Hussein used to invade Kuwait and threaten Israel.

According to Pierre and other sources, former Warsaw Pact member Czechoslovakia, as a result of signing the conventional forces treaty last year, has 5,500 major weapons, including 1,500 tanks, it now wants to sell - to Iran and Syria, among others.

And its thriving arms industry, which employs 80,000 people, has an order from Syria for 250 tanks. Despite American pressure, the sales are pending.

Bush denounced the growth of "unnecessary and destabilizing weapons" in the Middle East, but he also emphasized the need to support "the legitimate need of every state to defend itself" - a clear indication that the administration has no intention of backing away from its proposed arms sales in the region.

Mendelsohn faulted the Bush plan for putting its emphasis on chemical weapons, which most countries are hesitant to use, and nuclear weapons, which only Israel possesses, instead of imposing harsh restrictions on conventional weapons - which make up the bulk of the Middle East arsenal.

"It's harshest on weapons that don't exist or can't be used and easiest on weapons that either exist or have been used," he said.

There are other areas of controversy as well:

-- Instead of an expected ban on the acquisition, production and testing of surface-to-surface missiles of all ranges, the Bush plan merely proposes a freeze, which could be followed by an eventual ban.

-- Instead of proposing a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East, which even Israel has indicated it might support, the Bush plan merely suggests a freeze on stockpiles of materials that can be used in nuclear weapons and a ban on future acquisitions.

"It was appropriate, necessary and welcome, but I don't think it goes as far as it could have," Mendelsohn said. "I don't see why we didn't take the opportunity of the smoking ruins of the post-war period."

In Congress, the plan was greeted by Democrats as a vital but timid first step in addressing the need to control weapons acquisition in the volatile region.

"We now have the driver . . . the president, back in the driver's seat," Rep. Dante Fascell, D-Fla, said yesterday.

But Fascell, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and other members of Congress from both parties have been urging the administration to shift its emphasis from arms transfers to arms control in the weeks after the war with Iraq.

Last year, the United States was the world's leading exporter of arms, with $8.7 billion, or 40 percent of the global trade, according to the respected Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. The Soviets were second. From 1984-88, the United States accounted for 18 percent - or $16.3 billion - of arms shipped to the Middle East, with the Soviet Union at 29 percent.

China also has emerged as a major arms exporter. Defense News reported on April 8 that since 1980, China has ranked fifth in the world in the value of arms delivered to the Third World. From 1984-87, Stanford University researchers estimate that Chinese arms sales totaled more than $8.2 billion, Defense News reported.

Growing U.S. concerns about Chinese missile exports to the Third World prompted several senior officials to visit Beijing in 1988 to block proposed missile exports, including the sale of M-9 tanks to Syria.

-- Material from Newsday is included in this report.

MIDEAST ARMS CONTROL PROPOSAL

President Bush proposed arms control measures for Middle East. They would apply to Iraq, Iran, Libya, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and other nations of the Persian Gulf and North Africa. Here are major elements of his plan:

-- Ballistic missiles: Freeze the purchase, assembly and testing of surface-to-surface missiles and eventually eliminate them.

-- Nuclear weapons: Ban purchase or production of weapons-grade uranium and place nuclear facilities under international safeguards.

-- Chemical weapons: Commit all nations to a worldwide ban on chemical weapons.

-- Biological weapons: Strengthen 1972 treaty banning biological weapons.

-- Arms suppliers: Establish guidelines to restrain weapons sales to the region by the U.S., Soviet Union, Britain, France and China.

SOURCE: Chicago Tribune, news reports

Copyright (c) 1991 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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