President Carter has called key members of the House and Senate to the White House for meetings today and tomorrow to reassert his intention to sell warplanes to Egypt, Israel and Saudi Arabia in a "package deal".
Carter's decision to hold these meetings during the visit to Washington of Menachem Begin, Israel's prime minister, appeared to be a demonstration of the White House's determination to go ahead with the controversial "package."
Begin has told Carter he opposes the package deal, and pro-Israeli lobbyists and members of Congress have already announced their intention to fight it.
The administration plan is to sell advacned F15 jets to Saudi Arabia, advanced F16s to Israel, and lesser F-5E's to Egypt, and to make all three sales conditional on each other. Thus, if Congress were to vote to block one part of the package, the administration says it would cancel all three sales.
Carter has invited members of the House Committee on International Affairs and the House leadership to discuss the package deal at 4 p.m. today. At 8 p.m. Thursday he will meet members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Senate leadership.
A key pro-Israeli lobbist, Morris Amitai of the American-Israeli Public Affair Committee, met at the White House yesterday with Frank Moore, President Carter's chief lobbyist in Congress. According to informed sources, Amital urged Moore to delay the package deal.
Moore replied that the administration would formally notify Congress of its intention to make the three sales as soon as the Senate has completed action on the Panama Canal treaties, the sources said.
Under the law, Congress has 30 days after such notification to adopt a joint resolution disapproving any or all of the sales. The pro-Israeli lobby intends to seek a resolution of disapproval of the proposed F15 sale to Saudi Arabia, then see if the administration adheres to its package.
An administration source said Carter decided to call the White House meetings for today and tomorrow to make his case before these members of the House and Senate go home for the Easter recess. The two committees Carter invited are the ones that would deal with any resolutions of disapproval.
Opponents of the package deal have already indicated that they intend to try to pressure members of Congress in their home districts during the recess next week.
Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and Secretary of Defense Harold Brown will take part in the meetings to help make the administration's case for the package deal.
Administration officials argue that the United States should tell arms evenhandedly in the Middle East to retain credibility as an honest broker there. Israel and its friends argue that this is a departure from the historic "special relationship" between the United States and Israel.