The words are those of candidate Jimmy Carter in New York City. The date - April Fool's Day, 1976.

"I am concerned with the way in which our country, as well as the Soviet Union, Britain and France, have poured arms into certain Arab countries far beyond their legitimate needs for defense . . . This headlong [WORD ILLEGIBLE] for weapons increases the chance of war. It postpones peace negotiations . . . It erodes security."

Today, ironically, President Carter's proposed $4.8 billion warplane sales package to Egypt Israel and Saudi Arabia is being viewed as a major test of his administration's clout in a seriously divided Congress.

In the continuing Washington game of "Promises, Promises" - comparing the president's words and deeds - Carter's pronouncements on the subject of U.S. arms sales abroad probobly score as the most contradictory utterances on any issue.

After becoming president, Carter - in his March 17, 1977, speech to the United Nations - reiterated his [WORD ILLEGIBLE] the U.S. role in the worldwide arms race.

". . . We will try to reach broader agreements among producer and consumer nations to limit the export of conventional arms, and we, ourselves, will take the initiative on our own because the United States has become one of the major arms suppliers of the world."

This year, according to Pentagon projections, U.S. arms sales abroad will reach their highest level in history - $13.2 billion. Next year the total is expected to go up to $13.5 billion, thanks in part to the new Middle East airplane deal.

In defending his decision to go ahead with the new sals of planes to Egypt Israel and Saudi Arabia, the president has repeatedly cited the commitments forged by prior Republican administrations whose arms sales policies he campaigned against.

The paradox heightened yesterday when State Department spokesman Hodding Carter read the wording of a U.S. Soviet communique announcing that the two countries have agreed to confer regularly on steps to cut the sale of arms to Third World countries.

As Hodding Carter was reading the statement at noon he was handed a report that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee had failed to block the president's $4.8 billion sale of sophisticated military aircraft to the three Middle East counties.

The United States and the Soviet Union are the world's two biggest arms suppliers and overall military spenders, not surprisingly. Between 1966 and 1975 the United States shipped $34.9 billion in arms abroad and the Soviets $20.2 billion.

U.S. Soviet talks in Helsinki May 4-8, officials said, have laid the basis for the first systematic talks between the two superpowers on limiting non-nuclear weaponry. Conceding that this subject has aroused more expectation and less results than almost any other in modern diplomacy, hodding carter drily noted, "Experience obviously produces its own restraint on expectations."

In defense of the president the basic commitments for expanded sale of military jets were made during the Nixon and Ford administrations. The great leap was made between 1971 and 1976 when U.S. foreign military sales jumped from $1.5 billion to $13.1 billion. Within that period the largest single-year rise came in 1973-1974 when sales - primarily to Middle East curtomer nations - increased from $4.5 billion to $10.5 billion.

From the standpoint of the present administration in Washington, as with its Republican predecessors, the underlying issues in the current war-plane sales controversy are political and diplomatic rather than considerations of strictly military security.

The political and diplomatic chits are oil, petro dollars and Israel's influential constituency of supporters in the United States - all of which the president as well as Congress are trying to juggle. It is a minefield of contradictory interests in which it is impossible to assuage all the contending parties. In 1977 Iran, Saudi Arabia and Israel - in that order - were among the top customers for American arms sold abroad.

In its "white paper" on foreign military sales last year the administration gave recognition to the growing reality of the oil imperative. It cited as one rationale for selling weapons abroad the need "to influence the political orientation of nations which control strategic resources."

The white paper, which reflected the more pragmatic approach of State Department director of political-military affairs Leslie H. Gelb and other advisers, also said that the United States "will continue to utilize arms transfers where necessary to promote our own strategic interest. . ."

Such benefits presumably included bolstering the U.S. balance of payments against the drain of increased oil prices and also lowering the cost of new military aircraft development for the Pentagon. When the United States sells weapons such as the advanced F15 and F16 abroad it charges the foreign customer for part of the research expense. Also, the larger the production run, the lower the cost of each weapon.

The sale of such advanced aircraft as the F15 and F16 is a striking departure from the policies of the mid-1960s when the McNamara Pentagon sought to limit sales to weapons with limited offensive capability such as the F5 "Freedom Fighter" - precursor of the far more sophisticated version the resident is proposing to sell to Egypt.

But the F15s and F16s destined for Saudi Arabia and Israel are to the F5 as a cannon is to a pop gun. The same observation could be made about U.S. arms sales policy today.