U.S. reportedly may OK export of rocket technology One aim of proposal is to create jobs

August 10, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- The White House is completing plans to permit the export of U.S. rocket technology that has been restricted out of fear it could be used to develop ballistic missiles, according to Clinton administration sources.

The proposal to allow the sale of space technology under strengthened safeguards is part of a review of export controls and nonproliferation policy ordered by President Clinton. The review, being carried out by the National Security Council in concert with the departments of Commerce, Defense and State, is attempting to balance Mr. Clinton's campaign pledge to stem the spread of weapons with the need to stimulate jobs through exports, particularly in the beleaguered aerospace and defense industries.

The proposals also include continued restrictions on the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. All the agencies involved in making the proposals, which are contained in Presidential Review Directive 8, generally have agreed that they should be implemented, according to senior administration sources.

The president is expected to act on the recommendations soon.

The proposals are fraught with potential controversy. On the one hand, business is pressuring the administration to ease the restrictions, arguing that U.S. industry is being unfairly hampered while foreign competitors sell the technology without restrictions. At the same time, there is concern that the sale of such technology could speed production of weapons that could be used against the United States and its allies.

In an effort to address the concerns, sources said the proposal to sell rocket technology is coupled with plans for tighter guidelines on the spread of ballistic missiles and a worldwide ban on the production of weapons-grade uranium and plutonium.

Separate consultations are under way with allies to ease restrictions on computer exports and to allow foreign sales of supercomputers that perform at levels above those now permitted for export.

The administration already has indicated a willingness to help struggling U.S. defense companies. Commerce Secretary Ron Brown promoted the sale of American military and commercial aircraft in June at the Paris Air Show, the first appearance at the arms fair by an American Cabinet member in memory.

And in a cable to U.S. ambassadors in May, Secretary of State Warren Christopher said: "The president has identified promotion of America's economic security as the first pillar of our foreign policy."

The State Department, however, remains concerned about weapons proliferation and has resisted efforts by the Commerce Department to reduce or scrap existing controls on American technology already sold freely by other countries, according to sources involved in the internal administration debate.

Changes in U.S. policy will be incremental rather than radical, said Thomas Graham, acting director of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency. "It's our view that controls certainly can be liberalized, but there still remains a significant advantage in not just removing all controls."

But in Congress there is sentiment for moving faster to relax restrictions on computers and other technology that have both commercial and military applications, such as telecommunications.

"We have crippled entire industries while the French, the Germans and everybody else [are] selling all over the globe," said Rep. Sam Gejdenson, D-Conn., chairman of a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee which is conducting hearings on rewriting U.S. export laws.

In a classified briefing for congressmen, CIA officials acknowledged in July that controls on most computers no longer prevent nations from developing nuclear weapons, according to sources familiar with the session.

"Controlling computers is a lost cause," said one senior administration nonproliferation official.

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