Iran has asked the United States to cancel all remaining orders for weapons concluded by the deposed Shah and Washington is seeking to sell some of those arms to Israel, according to informed sources.
The Israelis stand to get 55 F16 fighter planes being built by General Dynamics as part of a $3.5 billion order by Iran for 160 of the aircraft. Irancanceled the entire F16 order in early February because of its inability to make payments or to train enough personnel to fly and maintain thesophisticated planes.
The episode could prove embarrassing to the new Iranian government since its rejection of the U.S. aircraft and arms means that Israel could get them much sooner. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's government has made a point of ending Iran's good relations with Irael and instead throwing the country's support wholeheartedly behind the Arab foes of Israel.
The Pentagon has asked Congress for a supplemental appropriation for fiscal 1979 to buy much of the weaponry that is already in productioin for Iran the sources said. The equipment would then be sold to the U.S. military services or to other foreign buyers, and most of Iran's advanced payments would be returned.
Such arrangements would amount to a U.S. bailout, saving Iran from costly commitments to American defense manufacturers. The plan is reportedly being resisted by some firms who fear the purchases by the Pentagon would wipe out future orders.
By diverting the F16s to Israel, the U.S. government would move up delivery dates on a previouly agreed sale of 75 of the aircraft. Israel would get the 55 F16s in production for Iran when they became available starting in January 19808 a year ahead of Israel's own order, which called for deliveries beginning in 1981. Then Israel would take the first 90 of the F16s they ordered to come off the production line.
The sale of the 75 F16 fighters to Israel was agreed to last year as part of the Middle East aircraft package involving the United States, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
It is unclear whether Israel eventually will be offered other U.S. weapons previouly destined for Ian.
Iranian military authorities told U.S. officials recently that they no longer want $1.5 billion worth of sophisticated weaponry on which they had reserved a decision when they made a previous massive cutback.
The earlier cancellations, agreed to in February before revolutionaries overthrew the monarchy of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, erased nearly $10 billion from an Iranian arms order book with the United States totaling some $12 billion over four to five years.
Written off were the F16s, seven AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System) radar-equipped Boeings, 16 F4 reconnaissance planes, two of four Spruance-class destroyers, two of three Tang-class submarines and more than 14,000 missiles of various types.
That cancellation agreement was negotiated earlier this year by Erich von Marbod, the deputy director of the Pentagon's Defense Security Assistance Agency, and officials of the government under former prime minister Shahpour Bakhtiar. Although Bakhtiar was ousted a week after it was signed, the new government has indicated satisfaction with it.
The new cancellation affects the two remaining Spruance destroyers, worth about $750 million; the last of the refurbished World War II vintage submarines and more undelivered missiles, including the advanced Phoenix air-to-air and the ship-mounted Harpoon system.
As a result, less than $1 billion will remain from the $12 billion worth of orders with the United States, officials said. They said the orders being retained cover mainly spare parts and support for U.S. weapons systems Iran has already purchased.
The Pentagon wants to sell the two latest canceled Spruances, whose construction is already well along, to the U.S. Navy. Although ostentatious special equipment ordered by a previous Iranian Nvay chief has increased the destroyers' cost and reportedly made them something of a joke in U.S. shipyards, the Navy could use the ships' advanced communications capability and firepower.
So far the new Iranian government has not made a firm offer to Washington to sell back equipment already in Iran, only that which has not yet been delivered, the sources said. An exception is the Tang-class submarine, which had been turned over to a combined Iranian and American crew in U.S. waters off Portsmouth, Va.
Although the Iranian defense minister recently expressed interest in selling back 80 advanced F14 aircraft currently grounded in Iran and their classified Phoenix missiles, no formal offer has yet been made, and the Pentagon has not actively sought to buy them, the sources said.
In addition to canceling the remaining orders of new weapons, Iranian military authorities are seeking the return of nearly a thousand Iranian Navy trainees from the United States. The men have been learning to operate and maintain the Spruance destroyers at bases including Norfolk, Va., and San Diego. Many are reportedly reluctant to go home and give up the benefits bestowed on them by the previous government as incentives to complete their training.
The Trainees have been getting paid out of a $300 million account Iran maintained in the United States to make payments on its military contract. The Tehran government's obligations far exceed that, however.
Iran has not made any payments to the United States on its military contracts since early January and presently owes several hundred million dollar, informed sources said. Thy said Iran is in danger of defaulting on those debts unless Congress approves the plan for the Pentagon to buy out the Iranian commitment.
"It is a bailout because the Iranians are on the hook for those contracts," a source said. Left unstates is Washington's apparent hope that such laresse would be rewarded by improved relations with the new revolutionary government.
Complicating matters is the enexperience of current milliary leaders in Iran.
"They don't know what they've got, what they paid for it or what their capabilies are," a source said. "The men in power are naive. They don't know modern technoloy. Those who did have been jailed or retired CAPTION: Picture, Lt. Gen. Rabii, former Air Force commander, pleads for his life before being shot. AP