Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr., in his own version of the Carter administration's persian Gulf doctrine, declared yesterday that the United States would respond with the full range of its power to "a change in the status quo" in the vital oil-field area of the Middle East.
Haig also strongly hinted that U.S. ground troops may be stationed in the Sinai peninsula by next spring to bring about Israeil withdrawal from that sensitive area. Such a permanent U.S. military presence on the ground in the Middle East would be a reversal of Carter administration policies and a new departure for the United States.
Haig's testimony, which outlined basic shifts in American priorities, resources and tone toward a harshly anti-Soviet foreign policy, was greeted with a mixture of praise and misgivings by the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
In a particularly sharp exchanged, Rep. Benjamin S. Rosenthal (D-N.Y.) complained that the policies outlined by Haig appear to be based on piecemeal reaction to "Soviet adventurism," and seem lacking in both priorities and positive goals.
The secretary of state, his voice rising with emotion, placed the blame on Soviet activity, saying that "it does no good to pretend in our policies or our proclamations that that is not the most serious threat to world peace that we are facing today."
At another point, Haig said it would be "sterile" to suggest a total preoccupation with "the so-called Russians are coming syndrome." At the same time, he charged the Soviets with a wide range of offenses, from operating training camps for "third World embryo terrorists" to committing "illegal interventionisms" in nearly every area of the globe.
Haig interpreted the trouble in Central America as part of a "four-phased operation" for ultimate communist control. Referring to the ouster of Anastasio Somoza and the coming to power of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, Haig asserted that "phase one has been completed with the seizure of Nicaragua." He identified the next three phases of a "hit list" as the takeover of El Savador, Honduras and Guatemala in that order.
The former four-star general came close to saying that confrontation with the Soviets is inevitable and permanent. "Profound differences in a number of fundamental areas, political, economic, humanitarian and security related . . . will inevitably bring aboiut confrontation" as long as they exist, he said.
The three prominent trends facing the United States today, declared Haig in the prepared part of his statement, are: diffusion of power to many nations, including those ready to employ violence; increased U.S. and allied vulnerability to international unrest and violent change, and the growth of Soviet military power capable of supporting "an imperial foreign policy." The last trend, he added, is "most alarming."
The revised foreign assistance program, which will be the first piece of foreign policy legislation fashioned by the Reagan administration, embodies large-scale changes based on this shift of priorities toward the military security field.
Haig noted that cuts of over $1 billion had been made in U.S. contributions to development assistance programs worldwide, a reduction of 26 percent. At the same time the administration proposed an increase of $1 billion, in budgetary terms, in subsidized loans for the purchase of U.S. weaponry by foreign nations, in addition to other increases in security-related aid.
Rep. Gerry E. Studds (D-Mass.) said that projected figures over the next five years show cuts of $11 billion in economic and humanitarian assistance, and proportionate increases in military assistance. Studds expressed the fear that the United States is taking up the unsuccessful tactics of the Soviets in the Third World and "beating our plowshares into swords."
Despite Haig's tough line in the Soviets, the State Department last night formally disavowed statements of an unnamed U.S. official quoted by the Reuter news agency as saying that detente is dead and broad negotiations with the Russians are pointless under present circumstances. Another news organization attributed the statements to Richard Pipes, a member of the National Security Council staff.
Haig's first public testimony as secretary of state won praise from several of the lawmakers, who applauded his forthrightness and anti-communist views. The predominant attitude of the Democratic majority was one of skepticism. A senior Republican, Edward J. Derwinski (Ill.), predicted, "You won't do too well in this committee, but we'll correct that on the House floor."
The Middle East, more than any other region, prompted the most questioning and debate. Several committee Democrats who are strong backers of Israel questioned the proposed sale of enhancement equipment for the U.S.-supplied F15 jets to Saudi Arabia. In defending the sale, Haig declared that "the situation in the Persian Gulf has changed fundamentally" due to the fall of the shah of Iran, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and a deterioration of Saudi confidence in the United States.
In response to questions about the Carter doctrine by Rep. Lee Hamilton (D-Ind.), Haig said the oil resources of the Persian Gulf are considered by the new administration to be a "vital U.S. interest."
Haig's statement that a "change in the status quo" would be countered "with the full range of power assets" of the United States seemed to go beyond the Carter doctrine, which promised a U.S. response to "an attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf." Haig did not say, nor was he asked, if his statement also applies to changes in the internal status quo of key Persian Gulf nations.
Haig's suggestion of a potential U.S. ground presence in the Sinai came in response to Rep. Paul Findley (R-Ill.), who expressed "grave concern" about news reports of such a plan. The secretary of state answered that the United States had promised to arrange a suitable "multinational force" to police that area after an Israeli withdrawal under the Camp David agreements.
The deadline for establishment of such a force is April 1, 1982. Haig said "we may be faced precisely with the area you express concern about" in the effort to guarantee Israeli withdrawal, and added that "some American participation" in a peacekeeping force may be required. The Carter administration rule out a role for U.S. military personnel in a Sinai arrangement.