The Republican-controlled Senate voted 97 to 1 yesterday to shelve President Reagan's controversial proposal for a $1.9 billion arms sale to Jordan until March 1 unless Jordan begins direct peace negotiations with Israel before then.
Reagan reluctantly agreed to accept the four-month delay Wednesday after Senate GOP leaders bluntly told him it was the only way to avert outright rejection of the proposal.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) said that the delay, worked out with opponents of the arms sale, was designed to avoid embarrassing the Reagan administration and Jordan's King Hussein. Seventy-four senators on Monday introduced a resolution of disapproval to block the deal altogether, and leaders of the opposition were prepared to force a vote on it yesterday. A similar resolution of disapproval is pending in the House.
"A vote of disapproval was going to occur," Lugar said after the vote. "To the extent that bad things didn't occur and good things could still occur, I think we're all a whole lot better off, including the king."
In New York, White House spokesman Larry Speakes said of the Senate action: "If this enhances the peace process, it is good. The president is committed, and deeply so, to seeking progress in the weeks ahead, and committed to the sale of defensive arms to the Jordanians."
Administration officials said Reagan felt strongly that the arms were needed to show support for Hussein, who has come under fire from hard-line Arab states for his recent willingness to consider entering negotiations with Israel.
Hussein, in an interview with reporters in Amman, called the delay "totally unacceptable." He said, "One wouldn't like to use the word blackmail, but it's totally unacceptable. Obviously it's not a way to deal with problems among friends."
The king asserted that the arms package of fighter planes, surface-to-air missiles and other weapons was needed for Jordan's security and said if the sale were delayed until March 1, "I would consider that reneging on the agreement."
Hussein has indicated in the past that he would turn to others, including the Soviet Union, if the United States refused to sell him arms.
Senate Majority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) said, "We are not trying to blackmail anyone. We are trying to take responsible actions to encourage negotiations for a true peace in the Middle East, which will be of more benefit to Jordan's security than anything else we can do."
Opponents of the arms deal claimed victory yesterday and said the Senate vote would not have been necessary had the administration heeded warnings and postponed the arms request.
Reagan officially notified Congress on Monday that he intended to sell the arms to Jordan. Under the law, the sale will go forward after 30 days unless both houses of Congress pass legislation to block it. Reagan could veto the congressional action, but opponents at this point appear to have the votes to override a veto.
"There is no justification for any weapons sale to Jordan or any other Arab nation that might endanger the security of Israel," Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) said. "By our action delaying -- and denying -- the sale for now, we offer a clear, continuing and appropriate incentive to Jordan to make peace with Israel."
While delaying the arms sale until March 1, the legislation leaves open the question of what happens then. Lugar said Reagan would be able to proceed with the sale unless Congress took further action to block it.
Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), the only "no" vote yesterday, unsuccessfully pressed Lugar during debate for assurances that legislation blocking the arms sale at some future date would be given high priority to assure its consideration before March 1.
House opponents of the arms deal, who have 273 cosponsors of a resolution of disapproval, voiced reservations about the Senate action and suggested the House might go ahead with a flat-out rejection.
"I'm happy for the delay but I'm concerned about the language in which the delay is cloaked," said Rep. Lawrence J. Smith (D-Fla.), one of the chief House opponents. "There's a little bit of concern in the House that it looks to some degree like it is a conditional resolution of approval before March 1 and an outright resolution of approval after that."