Saudi Arabia's wily King Khalid is aware that his influence isn't rooted in real power, that his country's vast oil wealth is mismatched to a small backward population and that he can achieve his ends only through a foreign policy of bribery and manipultation.
This makes all the sequence of events that I reported yesterday, showing how President Carter's drive to sell 60 sophistiticated F15 jet fighters to Saudi Arabia appeared to be linked with the tangled trail of a $1 million loan, the first installment of which was given to the Carter family peanut business in 1975.
The president owed the money to a bank controlled by a Saudi businessman whose father advised King Khalid on how to deal with the United States. This is the first time in history that an American president has been in the position of being financially beholden to foreign interests with a clear stake in U.S. foreign policy decisions.
The dependence of the president's personal financial well-being on a Saudi-controlled bank also adds a disturbing factor to the Carter administration's "tilt" toward the Arab position on the Israeli-Palestinian question.
The final approval of F15 sales to the Saudis in May of 1978 came only days after Carter's warehouse loan was renegotiated on terms that resulted in a savings of $60,000 for the Carters that year. The Saudi connection didn't stop then, however. An investigation by my reporters Peter Peckarsky and Peter Grant reveals that:
In January 1980, shortly after the Carter trust posted a $255,000 deficit for 1979 -- largely due to warehouse loses -- the president's national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, visited Riyadh. He learned among other things, of Saudi Arabia's request that the United States add offensive capability to the F15s we had sold them. The modifications, which would enable Saudi aircraft to strike Israel, had explicitly been denied to the Saudis in 1978.
In March 1980, the Carter administration, in a supposed communications foulup, voted in the United Nations to condemn Israeli settlements on the West Bank. Faced with an uproar in the Jewish community shortly before the primary in heavily Jewish New York, Carter disavowed the vote two days later.
Also in March 1980, Charles Kirbo, the old Carter friend who is trustee of Carter's business interests, traveled to Saudi Arabia and spent five days confering with Saudi leaders. What they discussed has never been made public.
In June 1980, the Carter administration considered providing the Saudis with the additonal equipment that would give their F15s offensive capability. After another furor, the administration decided to shelve the idea -- at least until after the election.
Also in June, the Carter administration abstained on, instead of vetoing, an Arab-backed U.N. resolution condemning Israel's plans to make Jerusalem -- including the once-Arab Old City -- the Israeli capital.
Meanwhile President's Carter's family business is in hock to a bank controlled by a Saudi Arabian. The debt is now believed to be about $600,000, but the Saudi can demand payment once each year.
Footnote: My report on the status of the Carter loan is based on a check last month of Sumter County, Ga., records. These showed that the Carter warehouse was still in hock to the National Bank of Georgia. The bank's recently appointed president, Roy Carlson insists that the loan has been "paid in full." He steadfastly refused, however, to provide details. The two trustees of the president's personal trust. Charles Kirbo and Robert Lipshutz, refused to answer our questions.