President Reagan is "puzzled" by criticism from Israel calling into question the "good faith" of the United States after the administration actively opposed an additional $475 million in aid for Israel, the president's chief spokesman said yesterday.
Deputy press secretary Larry Speakes said the administration remains opposed to any additional aid to Israel above the $2.5 billion it has requested. The White House wants "no more, no less," he said.
Last week, the Republican-controlled Senate Appropriations Committee brushed aside administration objections and approved $475 million more than Reagan wants in direct military and economic aid to Israel in the current fiscal year.
Israeli officials reacted sharply to the administration's intervention. Foreigh Minister Yitzhak Shamir said the administration move violated pledges not to link economic and military aid to Israel to political issues such as Reagan's Middle East peace initiative.
The administration has taken the position that it would not use U.S. economic and military aid to Israel as leverage to advance the Mideast peace process. But acting Secretary of State Kenneth W. Dam told Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Mark O. Hatfield (R-Ore.) in a Dec. 1 letter that an increase in aid to Israel "could imperil the strenuous effort we are making to find a settlement in Lebanon and to make progress in the broader peace process."
Dam, who serves as acting secretary when Secretary George P. Shultz is out of the country, said that, if sustained, the vote "will sharply increase the difficulty of drawing into the larger peace process those whose participation is essential to progress."
The foreign aid bill to which the $475 million was added is not expected to get through the House before the 97th Congress concludes its lame-duck session next week.
But the controversy over additional funds has apparently taken on a larger dimension at a time of some tension between Israel and the United States over the continued Israeli military occupation of southern Lebanon and the continuing delay in launching negotiations leading to a troop withdrawal.
Speakes, asked yesterday why the administration has opposed the additional money for Israel, said it would mean less for other U.S. friends who "are desperately in need of U.S. assistance to help them deal with ongoing military conflict."
"These add-ons for Israel will make it more difficult to address these other needs," Speakes said, pointing out that Reagan had requested a 21 percent increase in military aid to Israel this year and that Israel now receives 28 percent of the total U.S. security assistance budget.
Dam said the increase in aid for Israel would come "at the expense" of other U.S. allies, including Spain, Portugal, Turkey and Pakistan. Yesterday, Speakes added Central American nations to the list.
"Frankly, in light of the president's proposed aid level to Israel, we are puzzled that Israel can call into question U.S. good faith on this issue," Speakes said.
The White House announced yesterday that Reagan has invited Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to visit Jan. 27. Speakes said a visit by Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, postponed last month, would be rescheduled for January. Reagan is scheduled to meet with Jordan's King Hussein later this month.
Also yesterday, the White House announced, as previously reported, that Reagan will nominate W. Paul Thayer, chairman and chief executive officer of LTV Corp., to be deputy secretary of defense. Thayer, 63, who has been chairman of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, will replace Frank C. Carlucci, who resigned.
Thayer was among a group of businessmen who have urged the administration to scale back its $1.6 trillion, five-year Pentagon expansion. Speakes, questioned whether Thayer still held these views, said, "I'm sure he wouldn't be nominated if he didn't support the president's program and I'm sure he will."