Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance strongly suggested yesterday that, if Congress blocks plans to sell jet fighters to Saudi Arabia or Egypt, the Carter administration will pull back its companion offer of planes for Israel.
The administration, Vance told Congress, will not accept any attempt to dismantle its proposed $4.8 billion package of advanced jet sales to the three Middle Eastern countries.
He sidestepped congressional questions about what the administration would do if Congress bars the sales to either of the Arab countries. But, in an impromptu chat with reporters, Vance hinted strongly that the administration would respond by canceling the Israeli part of the deal.
When a reporter asked if the administration's proposal is "all or nothing," Vance shot back: I said it's a package. That's what a package is, isn't it?"
This exchange occurred after Vance appeared before the House International Relations Committee to outline the administration's proposals for foreign aid programs totaling $9.4 billion during fiscal 1979.
However, members quickly turned instead to the plan, announced last week, to sell 50 F5E fighters to Egypt, 60 F15 fighters to Saudi Arabia and 75 F16 fighter-bombers and 15 F15s to Israel.
All or parts of this sale can be blocked if both chambers of Congress vote against them. Several members sympathetic to Israel have said they will introduce resolutions calling for a ban on the sales to Saudi Arabia and possibly to Egypt.
"Partial rejection I find unacceptable," Vance said. When some committee members asked about a congressional veto of the entire package, he replied: "Total rejection I find almost as bad. It would be very damaging."
But each time he was asked if the administration would cancel the sale to Israel Vance replied by saying only that the sales were being submitted as a package.
Congress, he said, will "have to come to grips with it face to face and make a decision up or down."
In defending the proposed plane sales, Vance repeated the administration's past assertions that they would not alter the military balance in the Middle East, that they would give the countries involved increased confidence in their ability to defend themselves and that those countries therefore would move more readily toward a negotiated peace settlement.
"Our role as a trusted intermediary would suffer most if the package is turned down," Vance sadi. "If you try to take the package apart you would further distort the balance which currently exists in the area."
When asked why the administration felt it had to move ahead with the sales now. Vance replied that all three governments involved had insisted on a decision by Washington, Israel, he said, had asked for an answer on its requests before the scheduled March 1 visit of Israeli Defense Minister Ezer Weizman.
In regard to Saudi Arabia, which is not one of the so-called Arab "confrontation states" bordering or directly threatening Israel. Vance said Washington had made clear that the Saudis cannot transfer the aircraft to another country without U.S. permission.
In his other testimony, Vance said the administration is asking Congress to authorize $4.5 billion in foreign aid for fiscal 1979. That figure, he explained, includes $1.6 billion for direct U.S. development aid to poorer countries, $2.7 billion for military assistance and $282 million for United Nations and Organization of American States programs.
In addition, Vance said, the administration plans to ask Congress for additional legislation authorizing contributions of $3.5 billion to international financial lending institutions and $1.4 billion for the Food for Peace program, which provides poor countries loans on easy terms to buy surplus U.S. agricultural products.
"This is the first foreign assistance budget which fully reflects the policies and priorities of the Carter administration," he said. Its emphasis, he added, is on helping poor people in poorer countries, while giving "special attention to improving political, economic and civil rights worldwide."
He expressed regret that the military assistance portion of the aid budget is still greater than that allocated for peaceful development purposes. But, he added, continuing tensions in areas like the Middle East still require big military aid outlays. And he noted that Israel, the largest recipient, will receive $1 billion.