Tracking Number:  237278

Title:  "Administration Backs Commercial Arms Sales to Pakistan." State Department officials told a Senate panel July 30 that current US policy, which allows limited private commercial sales of military equipment to Pakistan, is both legal and an important means of promoting nuclear non-proliferation and other goals in South Asia. (920731)

Date:  19920731


07/31/92 *

(PAO ADVISORY) ADMINISTRATION BACKS COMMERCIAL ARMS SALES TO PAKISTAN (Senators differ on Pressler Amendment) (1010) By Berta Gomez USIA Staff Writer Washington -- State Department officials told a Senate panel July 30 that current U.S. policy, which allows limited, private commercial military sales to Pakistan, is both legal and an important means of promoting nuclear non-proliferation and other goals in South Asia.

"We are trying to maintain some degree of access and influence with a government whose cooperation is essential to meeting key American objectives in the region, from non-proliferation to counter-narcotics to stability in Afghanistan," said John Malott, deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs.

But in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Malott and State Department Deputy Legal Adviser Michael Matheson found themselves at odds with lawmakers who insisted that a 1985 amendment to the U.S. foreign aid act clearly prohibits any and all military transfers to Pakistan.

Several senators, including some of the original architects of the amendment, suggested that the administration is willfully misinterpreting the law in order to pursue narrow and misguided diplomatic goals.

At the center of the controversy are differing interpretations of the so-called Pressler Amendment, which requires a total cut-off of U.S. aid to Islamabad unless the president can certify that Pakistan does not possess a nuclear weapon, and that continued U.S. aid will significantly decrease the probability of its developing one in the future.

In the fall of 1990, President Bush announced that he could no longer provide Congress with such certification, and economic and military aid was duly terminated. Since that time, Pakistani officials have themselves acknowledged that they have the means to put together a nuclear bomb.

However, the administration has since 1990 continued to permit what Malott called "a limited number of commercial military sales" to Pakistan. He stressed that current policy does not allow the licensing of any equipment or technology "that will allow Pakistan to acquire new military capabilities or upgrade existing ones," nor does the administration license the sale of any "significant" military systems.

Outlining the legal basis for the policy, State Department attorney Michael Matheson told the senators that while the amendment flatly prohibits U.S. government sales or transfers of military equipment, it is silent on the question of commercial arms export licensing. The difference between government sales and commercial sales is "fundamental," he said in his testimony.

Matheson said he also based his view on the fact that the Pressler prohibitions deal with "assistance" to Pakistan. "In the absence of express language to the contrary, statutory references to 'assistance' do not include the mere licensing of commercial arms exports," he said.

For their part, several senators expressed disbelief and lack of confidence in the administration's willingness to act in good faith. The language of the amendment is "crystal clear" and written to offer Pakistan "a stark and meaningful choice," charged Senator Alan Cranston (Democrat-California).

Larry Pressler (Republican-South Dakota) -- the senator after whom the amendment was named -- said he could not "comprehend" what he sees as an obvious misinterpretation of the measure.

The amendment, Pressler pointed out, stipulates that "no assistance shall be furnished to Pakistan and no military equipment or technology shall be sold or transferred" to Pakistan. "That language is quite clear," Pressler said, adding that the continued licensing of military exports "is in violation of both the letter and spirit of the Pressler Amendment."

The senator also said it is "most extraordinary" and "most disturbing" that the State Department did not prepare a formal memorandum of law on the Pressler Amendment when the decision was made to continue the export licensing. He requested that the State Department provide Congress with copies of all written legal advice that was prepared while the issue was being decided.

Senator John Glenn (Democrat-Ohio), a former member of the Foreign Relations Committee who was called as a witness by his colleagues, argued that both the Reagan and Bush administrations have "willfully" violated the Pressler Amendment -- not only through the current licensing arrangements, but also by granting certifications when there was reason to believe that Pakistan already possessed a nuclear weapon.

"I believe that the Pressler amendment was violated almost immediately after it was enacted, when U.S. assistance and arms were transferred even though our government knew Pakistan was continuing its pursuit of the bomb," Glenn said.

He also offered a harsh indictment of U.S. policy towards Pakistan in recent years. "There are a lot better ways to redress our balance of trade than by peddling arms or dual-use goods to countries with lousy nonproliferation credentials. This policy did not work with Iraq. It is a continuing failure with respect to China. And it surely never worked with Pakistan," Glenn said.

In contrast, two Republicans on the panel, Richard Lugar of Indiana and Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, offered support for the administration's legal interpretation, as well as for its overall policy goals.

McConnell noted that his staff has "scoured" transcripts of committee hearings dealing with the Pressler amendment and had found no mention of commercial military sales. At that, Senator Pressler interrupted to say that the word "commercial" was never mentioned "because we just assumed that there wouldn't be a debate."

Addressing the issue of U.S. policy towards Pakistan more generally, Senator Lugar suggested that stopping commercial arms sales "will almost certainly damage" bilateral relations, and could seriously hinder U.S. non-proliferation goals.

Pakistan has already suffered a $600 million aid cutoff, and suspension of all commercial military transfers would almost certainly ground its fleet of F-16 jets, Lugar said. Such an outcome would only serve to increase Pakistan's sense of military vulnerability, and its perceived need to develop a nuclear deterrent.

That argument and others were dismissed out of hand by Pressler. "All they have to do," he said, "is dismantle their nuclear weapon."