Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger may offer Jordan mobile antiaircraft missiles and perhaps even the F16 fighter in hopes of persuading King Hussein to call off his arms deal with Moscow, U.S. officials said here tonight.
Weinberger confirmed to reporters traveling with him on his Air Force plane that he was leaning in this direction as part of the Reagan administration's effort to broaden its base of support in the Middle East.
"He does have real needs in air defense," Weinberger said of Hussein. "He should have very good equipment that is flexible and accurate."
Weinberger blamed a congressional ban on the mobile missile sale to Jordan for that country's decision to turn to the Soviet Union.
Pentagon officials have said they want to sell Jordan improved Hawk missiles that could be trucked from place to place, but the same officials admit that they would be hard-pressed to come anywhere near matching the financial deal being dangled before King Hussein by the Soviet Union and Iraq.
Jordan has agreed to buy from the Soviet Union 20 batteries of 16 mobile SA8 missiles each for a total of $200 million. Hussein has said that Iraq would pick up the tab. The United States would have to charge three to four times as much for a like number of improved Hawk missiles, defense officials said.
The State Department confirmed the Jordanian-Soviet deal after Hussein's visit to Washington last November.
Diplomats here said that Iraq is willing to finance the deal with the Soviets in appreciation for the Jordanian battalion of "volunteers" that has gone to Iraq to help fight the war against Iran.
Several U.S. defense officials said Weinberger felt that Jordan's missile deal with the Soviet Union was not far enough along to prevent discussing a U.S. alternative, but others said it was almost certainly too late to stop the deal, even if Washington would now offer to sell the Hawks.
Moreover, there is no guarantee that Weinberger could persuade Congress to go along with selling Jordan mobile Hawk missiles even if the king should opt for this course.
After Washington refused to supply an air defense system to Jordan following the 1973 Middle East war, the Ford administration in 1975 agreed to sell Jordan the mobile Hawks. But Congress, at the behest of Israel, balked. Rather than see the whole arms deal fall through, Ford notified Congress on Sept. 17, 1975, that Jordan would get only "defensive and nonmobile antiaircraft weapons." The Jordanian government termed the restriction "insulting."
Despite that history, Weinberger said tonight that "it may be that we will want to consider discussing this with the Congress," meaning the ban on mobile Hawk missiles.
Officials traveling with Weinberger said that the Reagan administration would consider it a serious setback if Moscow managed to provide Jordan with its air defense and built a close technical relationship with the kingdom in the process. Therefore, Weinberger, in discussions with King Hussein tonight through Friday, will seek ways to keep the Soviet arms deal from being consummated.
Hussein would probably be interested in buying the advanced F16 fighter. Defense officials did not commit themselves tonight to offering Hussein the plane, limiting themselves to stating that they would consider such a request.
The Jordanian government told the Reagan administration even before Weinberger arrived tonight that it wanted to discuss the Iraqi-Iranian war with the defense secretary. Jordanian officials contend that it would be in the mutual interests of the United States and Jordan to help Iraq win that war.
Nevertheless, defense officials traveling with Weinberger said that there is no change in the administration's reluctance to get involved in that conflict.
Weinberger arrived in Amman tonight apparently convinced that he had strengthened U.S. ties with the Arab world.
He successfully negotiated an agreement with Saudi Arabia to coordinate military planning and economic aid and also had what were termed harmonious discussions with Omani officials.
Defense officials said that Weinberger and Omani leaders discussed the possibility of forming a joint military planning group similar to the one the United States just established with Saudi Arabia. But no final decision was reached. "We need many friends," Weinberger said in relaying his philosophy to his traveling companions as he rushed from one appointment to another in his hectic swing through three Arab countries.
One of the officials traveling with Weinberger said military agreements and weapons sales offers reflected an administration policy to balance U.S. relations with Israel against those with moderate Arab states.
The administration has criticized Israel sharply for its raid on an Iraqi nuclear reactor last June and for the annexation of the Syrian Golan Heights in December, but the official denied that the administration was sending a signal to Israel.