The United States sent airborne warning and control system (AWACS) planes to Sudan in "full consultation with the French" to help the French air force if it went into action over Chad, Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger said yesterday.
Weinberger's statement at a Pentagon news conference added to several denials by the administration of a report in the French newspaper Le Monde that French President Francois Mitterrand was not consulted before the United States sent two AWACS planes and eight F15 fighters to Sudan after Libya attacked Chad. Sudan is Chad's neighbor to the east.
"We decided to send them over there because the French indicated they wanted them," Weinberger said. "I think possibly Paris has the same problem Washington does: there are many voices that are all labeled 'the French.' "
U.S. officials had talked with various French military officials, including the French minister of defense, Weinberger said, "and there was a clear indication that if they should want or commit their air force for counteractivities to the Libyans and to protect the Chadians, who were being attacked by the Libyan air force, that they would need some intelligence, some monitoring.
"We responded to that and got our AWACS in position to do that very quickly," Weinberger said. "We did it within 20 hours, and they are there, and they are ready should they be called on. There was full consultation with the French government."
AWACS planes, which are unarmed, are used to spot and track aircraft as far as 200 miles away, and radar operators in the AWACS can guide fighters to enemy planes in an aerial intercept system. The F15s would be their fighter screen against attack. Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi has threatened to shoot down any AWACS that go into action for Chad.
Asked if there were a Soviet presence in Chad, Weinberger responded that he was "not aware of" any.
Turning to other matters, Weinberger said that the administration was still considering a request by the Soviet Union to buy equipment from the Caterpillar Tractor Co. for laying oil and gas lines.
Weinberger, who in the past has been adamantly opposed to exporting equipment to the Soviet Union, said the White House had asked him for his recommendation concerning the request. He declined to say what his was.
In Santa Barbara, White House spokesman Larry Speakes said that "there has been no decision by the president" about the equipment sale. "He does not yet have a memo before him."
National security affairs adviser William P. Clark is trying to work out a compromise between Weinberger, who apparently still opposes the export deal, and Secretary of State George P. Shultz who reportedly favors it.