The Senate voted yesterday to give the Defense Department an enhanced role in reviewing shipments of militarily sensitive equipment to four Middle Eastern states and to any country implicated in transfers of nuclear, chemical, biological or missile technology to those states.

The voice vote to let defense officials review future exports to Iraq, Syria, Libya and Iran was intended to bolster the Pentagon's authority to block decisions by the Commerce Department, which both promotes exports and grants licenses for strategically sensitive equipment and technology.

"This will ensure that the department of our government that has the expertise and the primary responsibility for ensuring national security is given a full voice in reviewing {export} licenses," said Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), who sponsored the Export Administration Act amendment with Sen. John Heinz (R-Pa.).

Helms suggested the provision was intended to block the Commerce Department's authority to decide on its own that an export to these countries poses no threat to U.S. security, which he said led to an erroneous endorsement last year of the intended Iraqi purchase of U.S. high-temperature furnaces that could be used to make components of nuclear weapons.

The furnaces' export was halted last July in response to Pentagon complaints shortly before they were to be shipped. But Helms said "the bureaucratic procedure for reviewing such sales had failed" because the Defense Department only became involved at the last minute after receiving a tip from outside the government.

The provision must be approved in a House-Senate conference on the bill before it takes effect. All U.S. exports to Iraq are presently barred by presidential order as part of the U.N.-sponsored sanctions aimed at forcing Iraq's withdrawal from Kuwait.

The U.S. manufacturer of the furnaces yesterday sued Iraq in federal court here to obtain $62 million in damages for alleged fraud and breach of contract in the incident. Consarc Corp. of Rancocas, N.J., said Iraq lied in saying the furnaces would be used only for scientific research and to make prostheses for handicapped war veterans.

Iraqi Embassy press counselor Abdul Rahman said he could not comment on the suit because the embassy's commercial section had been closed. Ambassador Mohamed Mashat denied this month that the furnaces would be used for military applications.

As part of the same legislation, the Senate also voted yesterday to ease restrictions on the flow of sensitive technology to East European countries .

The relaxation of export curbs, which applies only indirectly to the Soviet Union, is expected to expedite U.S. investment in new East European markets and provide computer, telecommunications and other advanced technologies that the countries need for modernization of their economies.

The legislation, drafted before Iraq's Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait and the subsequent trade embargo, also included wide-ranging curbs on exports, credit and other commerce with Iraq. On the floor, senators added other amendments aimed at Iraq, including one raising penalties of up to $1 million for violating the existing trade ban.

Staff writer Helen Dewar contributed to this report.