US allies, reviewing high-tech trade with Soviets, claim 'unanimity'
Senior delegates from 15 Atlantic Alliance nations ended their two-day meeting on finding ways to regulate sophisticated technological exports to the East bloc ''crowned with success'' having reached ''unanimity.''
But the tight-lipped participants of Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls (COCOM) refused to reveal further details about the highly secret discussions.
The United States is known to have pressed for tighter restrictions on the sale of military, nuclear, and sensitive industrial equipment to the communist world.
COCOM, which was created just over 30 years ago by all NATO members (except for Iceland) and Japan, is a somewhat obscure organization that holds regular but unpublicized meetings in Paris. At first, the committee tended to serve as an instrument of US policy, with Washington more or less dictating what could be bought or sold. But since the '70s decisions have been taken by the whole group.
In recent years, France has been criticized repeatedly for selling strategic goods to the communist world. Other COCOM members followed suit by arguing that if France could do it, so could they.
This month's secret meeting was convened at the request of the Reagan administration in order to present new evidence on how the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact countries are using Western technology to strengthen their military capabilities.
More specifically, the US has expressed concern over the plan to construct a 5,000 kilometer (3,600 mile) pipeline to carry natural gas from Siberia to Western Europe. The project would use Western technology, primarily from West Germany, France, and Italy, and would be funded in large part by the West.
The Reagan administration has argued that the $10 billion project, which will provide these three nations with roughly one-third of their gas supplies, but only 5 percent of their overall energy requirements, will give the Soviet Union a leverage over Western European economies.
But the French, West German, and Italian governments have indicated that the pipeline will go ahead. By 1990, four-fifths of the European Community's oil will originate from the Middle East. Western Europe seems determined to reduce this dependence.
West European diplomats have stressed that they would be prepared to consider other energy supply options if the US could come up with more feasible proposals. Washington has already said it will increase its coal exports to Europe, but governments on this side of the Atlantic do not consider that alternative sufficient reason to merit cancellation of the project.
As part of its economic sanctions imposed last December against Moscow for its reported role in the declaration of martial law in Poland, Washington halted the export of US technology and equipment for the pipeline. One senior Defense Department official in Paris also hinted at the possibility of blocking US licenses of high technology manufactured in Western Europe and destined for the pipeline.
Publicly responding to American concern of strategic goods leakage to the East, France disclosed earlier this week that on order of President Mitterrand, sales of highly sensitive technology had been placed under strict controls even before the military takeover in Poland. But French plans for going ahead with the pipeline seem unaffected.
Paris and Bonn now seem to have adopted similar positions on sanctions, according to diplomats from both countries. According to Jean-Pierre Brunet, French ambassador to West Germany, both are ''skeptical.'' ''We French know from history that sanctions only produce the desired effect in exceptional cases,'' he said.