The Reagan administration will veto any U.N. Security Council resolution that imposes economic or political sanctions against Israel, well-placed White House officials said yesterday.
However, a high official said that the United States would support a resolution without sanctions condemning the Israeli air raid that largely damaged an Iraqi nuclear reactor last Sunday. The aide said President Reagan was weighing alternatives but did not support action that "punitive in nature."
Another official told reporters that "our opposition to mandatory sanctions is well-known," and added that the president was considering "a dozen different options."
What was clear after another day of discussions between Reagan and his chief advisers was that the administration does not want to go any further than it has in reprimanding Israel. Reagan criticized the raid on Monday and subsequently suspended the shipment of four F16 fighter-bombers that were to have been sent to Israel yesterday.
The sales were suspended pending a review to see if Israel had used American weapons for offensive purposes in violation of its agreement with the United States. Israel contends that the raid was "defensive" in nature, saying that Iraqi leaders repeatedly have vowed to destroy Israel and would have had the capability of doing it once its nuclear reactor was operational.
Though the Israeli have sharply criticized the administration's response to the raid, Reagan has made it clear to Israeli and Arab diplomatic representatives that the United States remains firmly committed to Israel's military security. For this reason, the United States is expected to resume military shipments to Israel, including the fourt F16s, as soon as the review is completed.
One course of action that has been advocated within the administration is for Reagan to determine that the Israelis did use U.S. planes for offensive purposes and then have the president take advantage of a provision of the Arms Export Control Act that permits shipments of arms to continue if the president determines it is in the national interest.
In a statement related to the administration's maneuvering on the subject of the Israeli raid, deputy press secretary Larry Speakes said the United States favors nuclear non-proliferation.
"In pursuit of this policy we strongly urge all nations to place their civilian nuclear facilities under international safeguards," he said.
Iraq is a signatory to the Vienna nuclear non-proliferation treaty and submitted its nuclear facility to international inspection. Israel has refused to sign the treaty. Without giving any details, Speakes said the administration has urged Israel to sign.
The White House support for nuclear non-proliferation, which Speakes said is now the administration policy, differs from what Reagan said as a presidential candidate. On Feb. 1, 1980, in Jacksonville, Fla., he said the United States should not stand in the way of foreign countries developing nuclear weapons, saying "I just don't think it's any of our business.
Regan subsequently denied having made this statement, however, and his aides criticized press accounts of his remarks.
The Israeli air raid this week moved foreign policy to the top of the agenda at the White House. For the first time since he resumed a full working schedule after his assassination attempt March 30, Reagan's primary attention was focused on foreign affairs rather than on his proposed income-tax reduction or other elements of his economic plan.
Politically, the issue is a sensitive one for Reagan, who has been a consistent supporter of Israel since the Jewish state was created in 1948. Reagan ran far ahead of the usual Republican showing among Jewish voters in the 1980 election, and the administration had hoped to translate some of this personal popularity into longstanding political support.
But polls taken for the White House earlier this year showed that Reagan lost favor in the Jewish community with his decision to supply Saudi Arabia with sophisticated air reconnaissance aircraft known as AWACS (airborne warning and control system), a decision that also provoked a negative reaction from some GOP senators.
Now, in the wake of the Israeli raid, which violated Saudi airspace, administration strategists expect that the AWACS sale will be ratified by the Senate when it comes up late this year. The administration has always claimed publicly to have the votes for ratification, but a White House aide acknowledged yesterday that "the odds look a lot better since the air raid."