The Senate approved legislation Thursday that would give the Defense Department more ability to block exports by U.S. companies to Iraq, Iran, Libya and Syria.
The Pentagon already can block exports it believes harmful to national security to many Communist bloc countries, but it only can advise the commerce and state departments on export licenses for the four Arab nations.A provision expanding the Defense Department's authority was added by Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., to a bill generally loosening restrictions on the sale of U.S. computers, telecommunications equipment and machine tools to newly democratizing countries in Eastern Europe.
Both Helms' amendment and the bill were approved on voice votes without any opposition.
The legislation was approved as it was learned that earlier this year, the Commerce Department approved the export to Iraq of digital electronic image-enhancing equipment by a California manufacturer over Pentagon objections.
``Clearly, that device is going to be used against our forces; there's no denying it,' Stephen Bryen, a former deputy assistant defense secretary for trade policy, said Thursday.
Helms cited the Commerce Department's approval in February 1989 of two furnaces for Iraq even though the manufacturer acknowledged they could be used to make nuclear fuel rods for an atomic weapons reactor.
That sale was stopped just before Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in August by a Pentagon appeal to President Bush after commerce officials had refused to allow the Defense Department to review the manufacturer's export license request.
``We have this situation where the Defense Department says, 'Don't do that,' but is overruled by the Commerce Department,' Helms said. ``This has occurred over and over and over again.'
Between 1985 and 1989, he said, the Commerce Department on 14 different occasions reversed Pentagon recommendations to forbid the sale to Iraq of technology that could be used for military uses.