Saudi Oil Minister Sheikh Zaki Yamani warned yesterday that a refusal by Washington to sell F15 jet fighters to his country would have an adverse effect on Saudi Arabia's present oil production policy and support for the U.S. dollar.
In an interview, the soft-spoken Saudi oil strategist said, "We place great importance and signifcance on this transaction. We feel we badly need it. It's for our security. It is to defend Saudi Arabia.
"If we don't get it, then we will have a feeling you are not concerned with our security and you don't appreciate our friendship," he said.
The Saudis have been expressing their concern privately to Americans, but this is thought to be the first time a high offical has publicly warned of the possible consequences of the failure of the F15 deal.
While asserting that Saudi oil production and dollar policies are based first on economic considerations, Yamani said that U.S. failure to supply the aircraft would certainly dimish "the amount of [Saudi] enthusiasm to help the West and cooperate with the United States."
Yamani's comments on the proposed sale of 60 F15 fighters ot Saudi Arabia were delivered without a hint of rancor. But in the past, as is the case of the 1978 oil embargo, the Saudia gave warning signals in a similary guarded manner.
Comments by Yamani and other senior Saudi officials leave no doubt that, as Yamani put it, the plane sale is regarded here as a "test" of "the first importance" for the "special relationship" between the United States and Saudi Arabia.
Yamani said that Saudi Arabia's continuing willingness to support the dollar at enormous cost to his own country depended in some measure on this special relationship. If it were upset he said, so too would be Saudi attitude toward the continued backing of the U.S. currency.
We prefer right now to stay with the dollar. We don't want to further deteriorate the value of this currency. But this doesn't mean we are not going to change our position," he said.
Despite heavy pressure from most other oil exporting countries, Saudi Arabia continues to support the pegging of oil prices ot the U.S. dollar, thus helping maintain the value of the American currency. In addition, it has been investing billions of its surplus oil dollars in U.S. banks and industry - in effect recycling American energy costs.
Yamani pointed out, as he often has in the past, that Saudi Arabia has no need to produce as much oul as it does today and could finance its ambitious economic development program with an output of only 5 million barrels a day instead of the present 8 million.
In fact, he said his country was losing money by producing so much oil to meet Western needs instead of leaving it in the ground where its value appreciates much faster than any dollar investment. Referring to the loss of revenue due to such high production paid for mostly in dollars. Yamani said, "It is on the whole not a pleasant thing to do."
Asked whether Saudi Arabia's level of oil production could be effected by the congressional decision on the F15 jet sale. Yamani said, "I am not ruling out completely any linkage."
The United Sates is counting on a substantial boost in Saudi production to meet its ever growing energy consumption.
In Washington and other Western capitals. Yamani is seen impecably dressed in three piece suits from the best international tailors. But here in his plush office at the Petroleum Ministry, he was garbed in the simple traditional long-flowing gown and headdress worn by the Saudi men.
Yamani said he had just been forced to cancel a trip to Washington because of the press of work. But he said that he felt the Carter administration fully appreciates" the importance of the plane sale and of the overall Saudi U.S. partnership. He noted nonetheless an imbalance in the weight each country seems to attach to the special reationship.
From our side, it is developing without any restrictions and at a very great speed. I don't think it is developing in the same manner and speed from your side," he remarked.
He said he would like the United States to do more in providing technology to Saudi Arabia, spurring its development and helping it solve its financial problems."
"We need especially your help to bring peace to this area and I should put much emphasis on this," he said and reference to the Arab-Israeli hospitalies.
One matter that is unlikely to be affected by the outcome of the plane the controversy is the Saudis' progressive takeover of the huge Arabian American oil Campany (Aramco) which produces about 98 percent of all Saudi oil.
Yamani said that his government planned to buy out the last 40 percent of Aramco still held by four American oil firms "very soon" and that it was only a question now of finishing up homework" on the establishment of a national oil company.
When that occurs, Aramco will cease to exist. Its senior staff will be transferred to the new Saudi company adn a firm will set up by the American oil companies to help" the Saudis, he explained Americans he said, will perform the functions they have in the past, "except make policy. In matter of fact, this is what is happening now."