Statement by Assistant to the President for Press Relations Fitzwater on the Arms Sale to Bahrain

 

December 2, 1987

 

The success of our policy and naval presence in the Persian Gulf is reflected in the action of the Arab States at their summit meeting in Amman, their unprecedented cooperation with us in the Gulf, and the presence in the Gulf of naval forces from five of our NATO allies. [Israeli] Prime Minister Shamir's recent statements strongly supporting our Gulf posture and its contribution to stability and greater realism in the area also bear testimony to the wisdom of our approach. A critical element in the success of our policy is that our moderate Arab friends and our allies see the United States as being reliable.

 

The emergence of legislation in the Congress that would prohibit the sale of STINGER air defense missiles to countries with a legitimate need for them is a source of serious concern. The immediate target of the proposed amendment is a limited sale of STINGER's to Bahrain.

 

For the past 40 years, Bahrain has been a good friend to the United States, consistently hosting our regional naval presence. In fact, it would have been impossible to accomplish the recent naval buildup in the Gulf to protect U.S. flag ships from Iranian attack without the help of Bahrain. At the same time, Bahrain's extraordinary support for the United States has made it even more vulnerable to Iranian military threats.

 

Attacks against Bahrain could hit either U.S. or Bahraini targets, since U.S. ships and aircraft are frequent visitors at Bahrain's port and airfield. Improved Bahraini defense against such attacks would protect American forces as well as Bahrain. The STINGER system is precisely what Bahrain needs to fill gaps in its defenses against the most likely threat, and no other system can do the job as well. U.S. Navy ships in the Gulf are equipped with STINGER's to defend against the very same Iranian aerial threat.

 

We fully share congressional concerns about preventing diversion of STINGER's into hostile or terrorist hands, and so does Bahrain. That is why we have always insisted on reliable safeguards that rule out the possibility of transfer or diversion as an absolute precondition for any STINGER sale. Any government that will not accept such safeguards will not be sold STINGER's. We must not forget that the likely alternative to careful, tightly controlled and monitored STINGER sales to states who legitimately need them and with whom we have important defense relationships is a further proliferation of unsafeguarded, man-portable Soviet systems. That would increase, not decrease, the terrorist threat in the area.

 

The administration is actively seeking to work with Congress on this important issue to develop a mutually acceptable solution. The more we can cooperate in projecting an image of steadiness and resolve in the Gulf, the more progress we are likely to make in reassuring our friends, deterring our adversaries, and defending our vital interests in that critical region.