Ex-Official: Signs of Chinese Sale Snubbed
By John Mintz
The former chief of the Central Intelligence Agency's weapons counter-proliferation efforts told a Senate committee yesterday that the Clinton administration's determination not to impose economic sanctions on China led it to play down persuasive evidence that Beijing sold nuclear-capable M-11 missiles to Pakistan.
"There's no question in my mind" that China sold 34 M-11 missiles to Pakistan in November 1992, Gordon Oehler, former director of the CIA's Nonproliferation Center, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Intelligence agencies are "virtually certain" the sale occurred, he said, but "intelligence analysts were very discouraged to see their work was regularly dismissed" by Clinton aides.
Oehler's testimony was welcomed by Republican congressional leaders as they kick off efforts this week to broaden their criticism of President Clinton from a single case his granting of a satellite export license in February to a company run by a big Democratic Party contributor to a broad denunciation of Clinton's policies regarding exports to China.
The Senate hearings, and a parallel investigation in the House, are scheduled to continue through Clinton's visit to China at the end of this month.
Witnesses said yesterday that the Clinton administration has rejiggered federal regulations in a number of ways to prevent imposition of sanctions against China for selling missiles to Pakistan and Iran.
If Clinton administration officials had found that entire M-11 missiles were sold to Pakistan, terms of an international agreement called the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) would have required the president automatically to cut off almost all high-tech trade with China.
But instead of accepting the intelligence agencies' unanimous conclusions, Oehler said, the administration quibbled with the intelligence data. Top officials said they would need direct photographic proof by spy satellites in order to determine that the Chinese sale to Pakistan had occurred, witnesses said.
Those conditions, Oehler said, provided Clinton aides "one of the easier outs" to avoid filing sanctions against China. "No administration likes automatic sanctions," he said. "They want to preserve their negotiating flexibility" with China.
Before now, intelligence officials have said only privately that they believe China sent the M-11 missiles to Pakistan. Spy satellites showed M-11 missile canisters being delivered at the Sargodha air base near Lahore, but no M-11s themselves, government officials said.
"Concern over the impact of missile sanctions [against China] has fueled the administration's efforts to contradict clear and unambiguous evidence that operational M-11 missiles are in fact in Pakistan," said Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), the committee's chairman. He called it an effort to "dumb down U.S. intelligence."
Gary Milhollin, an arms control activist and director of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, testified that administration officials have failed to act on a legal analysis by administration lawyers that a finding simply that China has conspired to sell entire missiles to other nations could require imposition of sanctions.
In an interview, a senior administration official acknowledged that decision, but said that Clinton aides have "set the evidentiary bar very high" because sanctions would so gravely damage U.S.-China trade.
"This administration uses a combination of engagement with China, carrots and sticks, including the threat of sanctions, to encourage better behavior by China," the official said.
Helms said Clinton himself gave a candid description of his efforts to evade congressional pressure to impose sanctions on nations that violate international rules. The president was quoted as telling a White House gathering in April that laws requiring the United States to impose automatic sanctions against nations such as China place "enormous pressure on whoever is in the executive branch to fudge an evaluation of the facts of what is going on."
Much of the hearing focused on the Clinton administration's decision to transfer from the State Department to the Commerce Department the authority for licensing the export of U.S. satellites for launch on foreign rockets. The two-stage transfer in 1996 and 1998 generated criticism because Commerce takes into account the financial interests of U.S. satellite firms when weighing whether to allow a space deal. The State Department focused more on national security issues and demanded tougher conditions on U.S. satellite firms, critics say.
The transfer of authority to Commerce also meant that the export of U.S. satellites for launch in China would be exempt from sanctions even if the U.S. government concluded that China had sold missile components to Pakistan or Iran.
"A satellite launch is one of the most lucrative things a Chinese aerospace company can get from the U.S.," Milhollin testified. By the bureaucratic shift of licensing authority, "the administration has surrendered one of the most important levers America has to stop Chinese missile proliferation."
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