The Senate Foreign Relations Committee side stepped an opportunity yesterday to challenge the Carter administration on its arms sales to Persian Gulf nations, and instead passed a much-diluted resolution that asks for two arms sales studies and adherence to Carter's arms sales guidelines.
While several committee members said their intention was to make it clear that the committee would look with disfavour at new arms transfers to the volatile region, they twice shied away from incorporating any strong language into the resolution they appproved by 10 to 0.
The resolution was born last week as a call by Sen. Frank Church (D-Idaho) for a one-year moratorium on sales of advanced military aircraft to Iran, which bought about 53 percent of all the weapons the United States sold abroad last year. This resolution they was opposed by the administration.
Before last week's meeting ended, the proposal was rewritten and weakened, as several senators objected to focusing the resolution on only one country, particularly since the Shah of Iran is expected to visit this country in mid-November, and Carter is scheduled to return the visit several weeks later.
Yesterday, Sen. John Glenn (D-Ohio) attempted to restore a bit of the resolution's original flavor, proposing that the committee agree to recommend disapproval of any military sales to the Persian Gulfarea before it receives a report from the executive branch on the impact of the sales.
The report, which the committee requested previously, would be a study of the military balance among the Persian Gulf nations and an assessment of the capacity of those countries to absorb further high-technology U.S. weapons.
"If we are to have a foreign policy with some agreement between the executive and legislative branches of government we're going to have some of this information available to the committee, "Glenn said.
Again though, the committee unanimously declined to adopt language which could have put it on a collision course with the administration.
"I would strongly oppose on the floor any effort to tie the hands of Congress or this committee," said Sen. Jacob K. Javits (R.N.Y.), in reference to Glenn's amendment. "We don't know what the circumstances will be, or what's going to happen in this world.
"I had in mind making clear 'Look out"' to the administration about arms sales to he persian Gulf, "but not to say in advance we would'nt approve it," Javits said.
Javits' comments echoed those of most of the senators at the meeting: they wanted to convey to the administration their concern about the level of arms sales in the Persian Gulf, but without calling for any specific sanctions against specific nations.
"If they don't get this study to us, any proposals for arms sales are going to run into a tough time in this committee," said Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md.), author of the revised version of the resolution.
The resolution comes at the crest of a wave of evaluation and criticism of the administration's performance on Carter's May 19 pledge to reduce the level of U.S. arms sales abroad.
Last week the Library of Congress' Cogressional Research Service released a study which concluded that the policy had changed little of the usual way of conducting the arms sales business in its first five months of operation.
At about the same time, Senate Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D.-W.Va.) delivered a long speech on the Senate floor praising the policy's goals but questioning its success.
Byrd also urged a year-long moratorium on sales to Iran, and called for consideration ofgiving Congress more of a voice in arms sales. At present, Congress can block major sales only if both houses pass resolutions to do so within 30 days of formal notification.
The current furor over arms sales in the Persian Gulf was touched off by the administration's decision to sell seven flying radar and battle command systems to Iran for $1.2 billion.