In accordance with President Carter's call for limiting international arms transfers, the administration said yesterday it plans to cut foreign military assistance by almost 10 per cent next fiscal year.
The proposed fiscal 1979 military aid budget, made public yesterday, calls for grants and credits to U.S. allies totaling $4.13 billion - a 7 percent drop from the $4.45 billion requested last year for fiscal 1978, which ends Sept. 30.
However, the budget proposal includes some money that, although related to security considerations, is for nonmilitary purposes. In terms of funds earmarked for military equipment and training, the cut is roughly 10 percent.
The new budget proposal comes at a time when worldwide attention has been focused on the Carter administration's planned $4.8 billion package of jet fighter sales to Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia - a move that has caused speculation about the administration increasing, rather than limiting, arms traffic.
However, administration officials said the new budget shows that the president is serious in his determination to reduce military aid spending while meeting the security needs of the United States and its allies.
While conceding that the cuts are modest, they termed them a "good beginning" and said they are "consistent with the president's policy of restraint in the field of arms transfer."
However, there is another aspect to the new budget - that involving human rights considerations - that is less likely to win applause from critics of foreign military aid.
Although the officials insisted that the human rights record of every country receiving aid had been taken into account, only one - the tiny and strategically unimportant Central American republic of Nicaragua - has been denied, on the basis of human rights, theright to buy U.S. arms.
In regard to other authoritarian regimes that have greater strategic importance - among them South Korea, the new budget proposes to continue military assistance at the same levels as before.
In testimony before the House International Affairs Committee on Tuesday, Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance conceded that, in these cases, the administration had decided that security considerations outweight human rights factors.
Vance specifically cited the Philippines whose government recently was singled out in a State Department report as a major violator of human rights. However, Washington currently is negotiating with the Philippines for the right to continue maintaining U.S. air and naval bases there.
As a result, the fiscal 1979 request for aid to the Philippines is the same as it was in the 1978 budget - $18.1 million in direct grants of arms and equipment and $18.5 million to purchase further U.S. material.
The overall budget proposals include four categories: direct grants of military equipment, grants for military education and training, financing for the purchase of U.S. made equipment and the so-called Security Supporting Assistance program, which provides certain countries with economic aid that has a military-related purpose.
In each category, the new budget shows a reduction from last year's request. Equipment grants are down from $284.6 million to $180.5 million, training grants from $35.7 million to $32.8 million, military sales financing from $2.2 billion to slightly more than $2 billion and security support from $1.9 billion to $1.85 billion.
The biggest piece of the budget is earmarked for the Middle East, with Israel the largest single recipient. The budget calls for giving Israel $1 billion in sales financing credits and $785 million in security support to help bolster its economy against the strains of its military preparedness spending.
Other major items involving the Middle East include financing credits of $85 million for Jordan, $45 million for Morocco and $25 million each for Lebanon and Jordan. There also are security support grants of $750 million for Egypt, $93 million for Jordan and $90 million for Syria.
Major recipients in Asia, besides the Philippines, include South Korea ($275 million in financing credits and $2 million for training), Indonesia ($40 million for sales credits and $2.5 million for training), Thailand $30 million for financing and slightly less than $1 million for training) and Taiwan ($10 million for financing).
Indonesia and Thailand are slated to lose the equipment grants they received in previous years, but their military sales financing would be continued at past levels.
In Europe, the major change is to eliminate from the budget equipment grant aid for two NATO allies, Greece and Turkey. Vance said Tuesday these questions would be dealt with in connection with new defense cooperation agreements Washington is trying to negotiate with both countries.
Some diplomatic sources speculated that represented an attempt to put pressure on the two, particularly Greece to sign the agreements. The sources said they believed similar pressure is evident in the budget's proposal to continue Turkey's sales credits at $175 million, while cutting back Greece from sales credits of $140 million to $122 million.
The only countries getting sales credits in the fiscal 1978 budget that will lose them in the new budget are the African republic of Gabon, which last year got $2 million on a one-time basis,and Nicaragua, which had $2.5 million. Although the officials refused to say so, it is known that the move against Nicaragua was made on human rights grounds.