Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan today suggested that the United States establish a military presence in the Middle East to deter Soviet aggression in the region, and urged that American weapons be funneled through Pakistan to anti-Soviet rebels in Afghanistan.
Reagan made his remarks initially in an off-the-cuff response to a question from his audience after he had completed his formal luncheon address to the Exchange Club of Charleston, S.C. His remarks were general in nature and contained few specifics.
Reagan suggested that "some consideration should be given" to establishiing an American military presence in the Middle East, particularly in Saudi Arabia. He urged that American aircraft be stationed at some of the bases in the Sinai Peninsula that Israel is returning to Egypt as part of the peace accord negotiated with the assistance of President Carter.
Later, in Pensacola, Reagan said perhaps the U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere could also be in the form of American aircraft. In each instance, he said, the aircraft would be manned by U.S. pilots and serviced by U.S. ground personnel.
Reagan said the establishment of this U.S. military presence in the Mideast might deter the Soviets from future aggression by making it clear that they would face possible military conflicts with the United States if they acted precipitately.
"I don't believe they are ready yet for a confrontation with the United States," Reagan said in Charleston. He said that the consent of Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia would have to be obtained before any American military presence could be established in the region.
The former California governor responded casually when the question was first asked from the audience in South Carolina, and he found himself pressed for details when reporters had an opportunity to question him later in Pensacola.
"What I think I'm trying to say is that there is a lack of foreign policy within this administration," Reagan saind in Florida."We should consider whether an American presence there would send a signal to the Soviet Union of how seriously we take their invasion of Afghanistan."
Reagan's suggestion on establishing an American military presence in the Middle East seemed to echo a suggestion made months ago by one of his Republican presidential opponents, John B. Connally. Reagan said that he was not trying to endorse Connally's plan, "I didn't even have John in mind," Reagan said.
Reagan also said that the United States should funnel arms through Pakistan to the "freedom-loving people of Afghanistan" -- the rebels who are now trying to hold off Soviet combatroops in Afghanistan.
He specifically urged the supplying of U.S. shoulder-launched, heat-seeking missiles that can shoot down Soviet helicopter gunships. He said the United States can supply the arms to Pakistan through an existing treaty, and he added: "There's nothing wrong with giving free people weapons to defend their freedom."