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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Washington Seeks Limit on Telecom Exports

WASHINGTON -- The Clinton administration has said it will ask U.S. allies to restrict future exports of state-of-the-art telecommunications switches, casting doubt on a Russian bid to purchase the equipment.


While the Commerce Department on Monday concluded that these switches are available from foreign suppliers -- a determination that normally would lead to the lifting of export restrictions -- a Commerce official said the administration considers the switches "strategically significant" and wants to continue to control their sale to certain countries.


Currently, the switches, like other high-technology equipment, may not be sold to former Soviet bloc nations.


The official would not say whether Russia is one of those countries, but it was a proposed sale of the switches to Russia that became the focus of an internal administration debate over future sales of advanced technology to China, Russia and its formerly Communist allies.


Later this week, President Bill Clinton meets with President Boris Yeltsin for talks that will include discussions of the sale of Western technology to Russia.


Last October, the Commerce Department lifted controls over sales of the equipment to most countries, in an effort to expand U.S. exports.


Telecommunications giant AT&T asked the Commerce Department to lift export restrictions to the former Soviet bloc as well, asserting that the switches were readily available from companies in Germany, France, Canada, Japan, China and Israel. Worldwide sales of this equipment now total $500 million a year and are expected to reach $1 billion by 1996.


AT&T's petition was opposed by administration national security officials, who argued that use of the high-speed, switches in Russia would jeopardize Western surveillance of Russian military and security communications, according to sources familiar with the issue.


The switches transmit 8,000 conversations simultaneously over a single fiber-optic cable.


Some key administration officials had proposed permitting sale of the switches to the heavily populated areas of Russia west of the Ural Mountains, while maintaining restrictions in military regions east of that range, sources said.


The administration has agreed with its allies to scrap a Cold War system of export controls aimed at the former Soviet bloc and replace it with a narrower agreement designed to keep weapons and missile technology out of the hands of "rogue nations."


Monday's announcement appeared to indicate that the administration may seek to restrict the sale of high-speed telecommunications switches to Russia.


Other Western nations, though, are not likely to go along, sources said. France, Germany and Japan are anxious to clear away obstacles to sale of the equipment.