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State Department Defends Transfer of Military Technology to Brazil

September 22, 1990

WASHINGTON (AP) _ State Department officials are defending their decision to transfer to Brazil technology for a multistage rocket capable of launching long-range nuclear missiles even though Brazilians are helping Iraq develop a similar weapon.

But Elizabeth Verville, a deputy assistant secretary in the department’s Bureau of Political and Military Affairs, told the Joint Economic Committee’s subcommittee on technology and national security that it won’t happen again.

″I would not characterize it as a mistake; I would characterize it as our policy has evolved,″ Verville testified Friday. ″Looking at it now in hindsight, we have determined it is something we do not want to do in the future.″

The potential for seven heat-treated motor casings for Brazil’s rocket to fall into Iraq’s hands is the latest in a series of U.S. weapons technology transfers brought to light at a time Congress is moving to weaken Defense Department controls over export licenses.

Gary Milhollin, a University of Wisconsin law professor and proliferation expert, said heat treatment of the motor casings by a Chicago firm will enable Brazil’s VLS rocket and the nearly identical Al-Abid launcher Iraq is developing with Brazil’s help to survive launch stresses.

The Brazilian general who developed both rockets, he said, is in Iraq helping Saddam Hussein perfect shorter range SCUD missiles, possibly loaded with chemical warheads and aimed at U.S. troops.

″These cases now seem to be the rule rather than the exception,″ said Milhollin, who read a list of U.S. weapon technologies shipped directly to Iraq or indirectly through Brazil over the past six years.

Just last week, it was revealed that the Commerce Department - again over Pentagon objections - in February approved a California manufacturer’s sale to Iraq of digital electronic image enhancing equipment with aerial reconnaissance and missile targeting applications.

And the export to Iraq of furnaces capable of melting uranium and plutonium for nuclear warheads was halted only through a Pentagon appeal to the White House just two weeks before Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait.

″If war comes, and Western ‘guests’ still shield Iraq’s arms factories, the West will be forced to bomb its own citizens to destroy its own exports,″ Milhollin said. ″Our (U.S.) exports clearly have been imprudent.″

Congress, however, appears to be moving in just the opposite direction. The Senate last week and without a single dissenting vote passed legislation that would further weaken the Defense Department’s ability to review export licenses approved by the State or Commerce departments.

A similar bill was approved by the House in June at the urging of U.S. manufacturers who complain the current Pentagon controls are causing them to lose out to German, Korean and Japanese competitors on high technology sales.

″It may die,″ Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., said of the legislation Friday. ″A different agenda has been driving it. Iraq is an obvious example (of) ... proliferation taking a back seat to economic and bilateral diplomatic concerns.″

Friday’s hearing by the Bingaman-chaired subcommittee was the first time Congress has focused on possible down sides of loosening rules on technology exports since Iraq’s takeover of Kuwait last month.

Henry Sokolski, a deputy for non-proliferation policy in the Defense Department, said the Pentagon had tried to stop the Brazilian rocket deal and may have succeeded ″had we learned about the motor casings earlier.″

″This particular license should have been revoked,″ he said. ″We made very clear we felt those items should not have been exported.″

Verville acknowledged that the State Department had bowed to the Pentagon’s pleas to not allow the heat treatment of 11 other Brazilian rocket motor casings to proceed but balked at also stopping the first seven.

″We were not going to seize the property of Brazil,″ she said. ″It was learned that heat treatment on seven casings had been completed ... and we could not untreat it.″

Milhollin said Brazil’s VLS rocket shares the same configuration of three stages and seven motors as the Al-Abid launcher Iraq is developing with the help of Gen. Hugo Piva, former head of the Brazilian Air Force’s research arm, and the chief developer of the VLS.

The Iraqi rocket, first tested in December, is capable of delivering a nuclear warhead 2,000 miles away, he said.

″Brazil has converted every one of its space rockets into a missile for export,″ Milhollin said, ″and Iraq has been a preferred customer. If the Al- Abid works, it will give Iraq the ability to launch spy satellites and will move Iraq closer to having a strategic long-range missile.″

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