Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance and Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan deeply disagreed yesterday on what the Carter administration's Middle East arms sales plan will do to the search for Arab-Israeli peace.
Vance, championing the interlocking attempt to sell $4.8 billion worth of jet aircraft to Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, declared that to assure the United States "an effective role in the peace process, we must have the confidence of each one of the parties."
Together, Vance said on "Face the Nation" (CBS, WTOP), the three-nation plane sales therefore become "an important part of the search for peace in the Middle East."
"I am afraid I cannot agree," countered Israel's Dayan, in an interview immediately afterward on "Issues and Answers" (ABC, WJLA).
". . . The way that we see it," Dayan said, "is that the Saudis and the Egyptians, one day, might use the American weaponry against Israel, and in a way you would be walking into the Russian shoes in the Middle East, preparing - not because you want it, but that will be the net result - preparing the Arab countries for the next war against Israel by supplying them with American war planes."
Dayan, once Israel's most celebrated general, pungently observed, "these are killing machines; they are not washing machines, and who are they going to use these killing machines against?"
The Vance-Dayan exchange was a preview of the forthcoming critical stage of debate over the triple arms sale "package" which the Carter administration formally submitted to Congress on Friday.
To try to reduce stiff congressional opposition to the Egyptian and Saudi Arabian portions of the plan, the administration last week jettisoned what Senate Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd on Saturday termed the "semantic buzz-word all-or-nothing package" terminology.
This controversy is now interlaced with attempts to pierce the impasse in Israeli-Egyptian peace negotiations, explored last week by Vance and Dayan. Today Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin will be in Washington to meet with Vance and President Carter and to participate in a White House mid-afternoon reception commemorating the 30th anniversary of Israeli independence.
About 1,200 invitations have been sent to rabbis and other Jewish leaders across the country. About half that number are expected to attend the relatively short-notice ceremony, which comes at a sensitive point in American-Israeli relations aggravated by the plane sale dispute.
Vance said yesterday that the president's declaration still stands - he will withdraw the plane "package" if Congress accepts only part of it meaning the Israeli portion.
But he preferred the latest, less provocative formulation, that the president will "reserve judgment" on what he will do if Congress rejects any portion of the total proposal.
Vance, perhaps unintentionally, even used the "buzz-word" officially exorcised on Friday. He said the administration recognizes that separate action must be taken on each of "the elements of this package" but he stressed that "these separate elements are . . . mutually reinforcing."
Unless the sale to each country is "acted upon positively," Vance said, "I think it's going to produce a result which will be damaging to the peace process and damaging to our relationships with each one of these countries."
The administration obtained support yesterday for the most controversial aircraft sale, the Saudi Arabian portion, from Dean Rusk, secretary of state in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, and his former deputy, George W. Ball.
Rusk and Ball, often at odds on other issues, appeared together in a third television interview, "Meet the Press" (NBC, WRC).
"I would be in favor" of selling sophisticated F15 jet fighters "in the total context of our relations with Saudi Arabia," Rusk said.He believes that planes due "for delivery in 1982 or 1983" mitigate the risk for Israel, and "if we get peace before 1983, the problem is relatively unimportant."
Ball, who long has advocated a more demanding U.S. position toward Israel to produce a peace settlement, said, "I think the administration is doing very well with regard to the Middle East problem, and I would suggest that they hold very firm." The F15 sale to Saudi Arabia, he said, "is a litmus test of our relationships" with Saudi Arabia - which supplies a quarter of the oil the United States imports.
The Israelis, Ball said, "are enormously exaggerating the consequences to them" of the plane sale to Saudi Arabia.
Vance said in his interview that if the United States doesn't honor its "commitment" to Saudi Arabia, "I think we would seriously jeopardize our relationship, not only with Saudi Arabia, but with the [other] moderate [Arab] countries in the area as well."
Dayan, in his interview, said that as a result of his discussions here last week with Vance, "I do feel better about the prospects" for going on with "the peace process" with Egypt, in which the United States is a mediator.
Instead of concentrating on new attempts to reach accord with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat on a statement of principles, Dayan said, "we tried for two days to see what the peace could look like if that is to be acceptable by the Egyptians, by Israel, and by the Palestinian Arabs. What will happen in what we call the self-rule, the automony [on the Israeli occupied West Bank of the Jordan River], in Jerusalem, in the Gaza Strip, in the boundaries . . ."
A public opinion poll issued by Louis Harris for publication today, however, indicated that Americans are overwhelmingly opposed to the sale of military aircraft to Israel, Egypt or Saudi Arabia, individually or in a "package."
The poll was unaccompanied by any comparison of public attitudes on arms sales in the past to these nations or others, a White House official pointedly noted. Ironically, the Carter administration itself has generated intensified public concern about the U.S. role as the world's leading arms merchant.
Harris' survey showed that Americans oppose the sales to Israel by 64 to 28 percent, to Egypt by 71 to 20 percent, and to Saudi Arabia by 73 to 18 percent. The poll said 60 percent of Americans are wary of almost any arms sale abroad, and in the case of the Middle East, where hopes for peace have been greatly aroused, the wariness is unsurprisingly higher.
With President Carter now laboring under a negative rating of 64 to 33 percent in the latest Harris survey, the lowest of his administration, he is under double pressure to try to produce policy successes and to avert further loss in popularity from new controversies.
Vance made a previously unannounced trip to New York yesterday afternoon to try to reinforce one prospect that has given the administration a tantalizing whiff of a possible international success - the western plan to bring independence and black majority rule to Namibia (Southwest Africa).
In New York, Vance conferred on Namibia and on the battered Anglo-American plan for majority rule in Rhodesia with several foreign ministers of the so-called "front line" states in the struggle for majority rule in Southern Africa.
Vance in his television interview shed no new light on his discussions in Moscow last week with Soviet leader Leonid I. Brezhnev on the strategic arms limitation talks (SALT), on Africa, or on any other issue discussed in the Kremlin. He insisted that confidentiality must be maintained to preserve negotiating prospects.
Vance denied reports that he was irritated or opposed to the timing of the projected trip to China May 20-23 by presidential national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski.
On the contrary, Vance said, "I recommended the trip, I approve it I think the timing fits very well, and I wholeheartedly endorse it." Vance said Brzezinski is "not going to negotiate anything about normalization" of relations with China, but rather to continue a "global exchange" with the rulers. The Carter administration, he said, hopes to achieve full normalization of relations with China during its "first term," as he put it.