The House Appropriations Committee yesterday punched big holes in the Pentagon's war plans for saving Persian Gulf region oil fields.
By voice vote, the panel refused to approve money the Pentagon had requested to enlarge airfields at Ras Banas, Egypt, and Lajes in Portugal's Azores, to accommodate large aircraft such as B52 bombers and giant transports.
The bombers, under war plans, would fly from Ras Banas and possibly Lajes, according to defense sources, to blunt any attack on Persian Gulf oil fields.
If the B52 attacks were not enough, American quick-reacting ground combat units, the Rapid Deployment Force, could be landed in the oil fields. The Pentagon considered Ras Banas its most promising forward base for such an operation and Lajes also would provide support for RDF forces.
But the appropriations committee complained that the United States has not received adequate assurances from Egypt that American forces would be able to use Ras Banas in an emergency even after spending $1 billion to build facilities there. The committee added that "longterm use of Lajes air base must be clearly established prior to the approval of additional funding."
In denying $178.6 million for Ras Banas for fiscal 1983, the committee also took a slap at NATO allies and Japan for not doing more to help protect the Persian Gulf oil they depend upon more heavily than does the United States.
"Neither our NATO allies nor Japan, who import over 70 percent of their oil from the Persian Gulf region, have taken any steps to support facility construction or to develop offsets to the sizable U.S. investment" in Ras Banas, the committee said.
"For the U.S. to increase the magnitude of its present investment at a time when we import less than 10 percent of our oil from the region, and when our allies are increasing their reliance on the Soviet Union" by building a gas pipeline from there to Europe, "is incongruous."
The Senate, in test votes on Ras Banas, has concluded that letters from the Egyptian government assuring the United States that Ras Banas would be available in an emergency were sufficient.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak apparently doesn't want to be too closely linked with the United States in Arab eyes by signing a formal agreement for use of the base.
"Country-to-country agreements have been signed by every country involved in the Persian Gulf Rapid Deployment Force program except Egypt," said the panel in counterargument to the Senate.
"The signed agreements are necessary to verify what both the United States and the host nation expect from the facility development program. Since there is no country-to-country agreement with Egypt and no prospect of getting one, when, how and to what extent we can use Ras Banas is uncertain."
The Senate has approved Ras Banas in its authorization bill on military construction but has not taken the next step of appropriating the money.
The House is farther along on the appropriations track, as a result of approving its military construction money bill yesterday. The Senate Appropriations Committee has not yet sent its military construction bill to the floor.
Last night the full House passed a bill authorizing $7.8 billion for military construction in fiscal 1983. There was talk of stripping the money for Ras Banas from the authorization bill because of the Appropriations Committee's objections, but an amendment to do this was not offered.
The authorization bill passed last night contains $365.6 million to build air bases, ports and barracks for the Rapid Deployment Force in Egypt, the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia, Kenya, Oman, Portugal and Somalia.