Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weingerger said today that future delivery of F16 fighter-bombers to Israel depends in part on preservation of the uneasy cease-fire in the Middle East.
"Certainly we would want to make sure a cease-fire held," Weinberger replied after being asked when the war planes would be released.
But the defense secretary, on a tour of the infantry base, did not say delivery of the F16s hinged entirely or absolutely on Israeli observance of the cease-fire.
"The planes will be released when a combination of factors happen or when it appears things are stabilizing," he said.
Then, in a bow to Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr., with whom he has sometimes found himself at odds on foreign policy matters, Weinberger added: "I hae no particular triggering event and, or course, it's not my department to have."
Nevertheless, the clear implication of Weinberger's remarks here, where he was inducted into the Officer Candidate School Hall of Fame, was that Israel's future behavior toward Lebanon generally, and the cease-fire particularly, will largely determine when the 10 planes are shipped.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Dean Fischer said a decision about resuming shipments of the F16s is expected within two weeks. Neither he nor other officials have spelled out the criteria for releasing the planes, some of which were held up after Israeli warplanes bombed a nuclear reactor in Iraq last month, and others after Israel's bombing of Beirut.
In a related development, special U.S. envoy Philip C. Habib reported to President Reagan on the cease-fire, which he helped to arrange, and later told reporters that it "could be a first, important step n the road to greater calm and security in the area."
Habib cautioned, however, that the situation is "fragile and sensitive," and called on all involved to exercise "the greatest care and caution."
[Reagan presented to Habib a framed photograph with an inscription of "great appreciation," which seemed to suggest that the retired diplomat's Middle East assignment is at an end. Habib, however, told reporters later that he "probably will be going back" to the area, but that no time had been set.]
Weinberger flew to Fort Benning and the Marine base at Camp Lejeune, N.C., as part of what he called his "self-education process." On the Weinberger plane, which hopscotched from Washington to Columbus, Ga., to Jacksonville, N.C., a senior official, who could not be identified under the Pentagon's ground rules, made these disclosures:
The Defense Department plans to recommend "some" base closings between now and Congress' August recess.
The official did not specify what bases nor how many the Pentagon would seek congressional approval to close or reduce in size. But he did say that there are a number of military facilities under review in hopes of closing some to save money. Some administration officials have put the target list at about 50.
The decisions on which bomber of bombers to build -- the B1 and/or the Stealth bomber for evading enemy radar -- will not be made until Congress goes on recess. Part of the reason for this, the official on the Weinberger airplane said, is to avoid distracting Congress while it works on the tax bill.
Weinberger's remarks on the F16 came in response to questions on the latest conflict in the Mideast, where a cease-fire in the flare-up across the Israel-Lebanon border was announced last week.
At first asked how soon the F16s would be delivered to Israel, Weinberger replied: "I don't think there's any one specific factor which would trigger the release of them. We obviously, allk of us, want to see the cease-fire to hold. The planes, I imagine, will be released when a combination of factors happen or when it appears things are stabilizing" in the Mideast.
Pressed on what specific factors he had in mind, Weinberger added:
"I have no particular triggering even tnad, of course, it's not my department to have one. But certainly we would want to make sure a cease-fire held.
"And I hope," Weinberger continued, "that it does hold while there can be some good negotiations looking toward a much longer range settlement."
In prepared remarks accepting his induction into the hall of fame at Fort Benning, Weinberger lashed out at U.S. strategy in the Vietnam war in the strongest public language used by any Reagan official to date.
"One of the most infuriating things to me has been the reading of history that we lost the Vietnam war," Weinberger began, charging that the leaders, not the soldiers, took the nation down a disastrous path.
"That was a war in which we made one of the most fatal and outrageous errors in our history.
"ywe committed and asked them to give up their lives," Weinberger said of the troops, airmen, sailors and Marines, "to a war we never intended to win.
"And that is something I hope never again will happen in the history of this country."
He said "every American can be thoroughly proud of the way" the military fought that war.