COCOM Officials Meet on Curbing Exports to Eastern Bloc

The Associated Press

January 27, 1988

Western officials met Wednesday to discuss streamlining and strengthening controls barring high-technology exports to the Soviet Union.

The meeting of the Coordinating Committee on Export Controls, or COCOM, in nearby Versailles, was expected to consider dropping some obsolete or widely available items from the list, while possibly tightening controls on the most sensitive products.

Peter Antico, spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Paris, said it was not clear whether any public statements would be made Thursday at the conclusion of the two-day meeting.

COCOM was established by the NATO countries and Japan to coordinate efforts to keep militarily useful technology out of the hands of the Soviet bloc countries.

The 16-nation agency is based in Paris, but keeps a low profile, rarely announcing its meetings or making any public disclosure of its work. The organization is founded on an informal agreement and its decisions, made by consensus of all the member nations, are not binding in themselves but each country is to enforce them through its own laws.

The U.S. delegation was headed by Deputy Secretary of State John C. Whitehead.

The meeting follows disclosures that during the past 15 years companies from Japan, France, Norway and other countries have exported sensitive material to the East Bloc in violation of COCOM rules.

Last year, it was learned that Moscow had made its nuclear submarines harder to detect with the aid of illegally-imported Western technology.

The export of banned milling machines by Japanese and Norwegian companies allowed the Soviets to make quieter nuclear submarine propeller shafts, with an estimated cost to the West of improving its detection systems at between $4 billion and $7 billion.

One of the meeting participants, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the affair made it clear that at least Japan and Norway needed to institute stricter controls.

In addition, he said, COCOM needed "to make the system of controls more efficient and more realistic."

European officials have said the COCOM list sometimes has restricted outdated equipment, while failing to include newer and more advanced equipment. They say the list must be steamlined and enforcement improved.

On the eve of the COCOM meeting, French authorities announced that in November they had broken up a network involved in the illegal export of electronic measuring and communications equipment to Eastern Europe in 1986 and 1987.

Five people were charged under anti-espionage laws that could carry prison sentences of 10 to 20 years.

Copyright 1988. The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.