US and Belgium settle a dispute over high-tech exports to USSR
The United States and Belgium have settled a dispute over the transfer of high-tech equipment to the Soviet Union - at least temporarily. Last week, according to Belgian officials, US Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger assured Belgium's defense minister that the Pentagon would forward a check for $700,000 to the Belgian government as part payment for a sophisticated milling and boring machine the Belgians originally planned to sell to the Soviet Union. Instead, the $1.7 million machine is being bought by the Belgian Army - with help from the US.
Things began to go wrong between the two NATO allies several months ago when the US learned that a small Belgian company, Pegard S.A., wanted to sell the machine to the Soviet Union. The Reagan administration put pressure on the center-right Belgian government to deny the firm an export license, arguing that the ''end user'' of the machine would be the Soviet military. The US offered to find another buyer for the machine so Pegard S.A. wouldn't be made to suffer.
Weeks passed. No alternative buyer appeared.
Then, while in Washington in early August, Belgian Defense Minister Alfred Vreven told Weinberger that the Belgian Army could use the machine, but there was a problem: It couldn't afford $1.7 million.
Weinberger made another offer: The US Defense Department would pay $700,000 toward the machine. The deal was signed between the US and Belgium on Aug. 9.
Then on Sept. 15, the Brussels daily newspaper Le Soir revealed that the government had just approved export licenses for five similar Pegard machines on order by the Soviet Union. Furious, Weinberger stopped payment of the $700,000, pending a review of the ''technology transfer implications'' of the new five-unit sale.
It seems that review has been completed. At a bilateral meeting in Italy last Friday, where both men were attending a NATO meeting, Weinberger told Vreven the
Does that mean the US has evidence the five Pegard machines will not wind up in the hands of the Soviet military after all? For the moment, officials in Washington and Brussels aren't saying.
What is known is that this latest twist in ''West-West'' relations concerning the transfer of technology to the Soviet Union is certain to confuse an already confused European public.
Government officials here and elsewhere in Western Europe have also been puzzled over the Reagan administration's to-ing and fro-ing throughout l'affaire Pegard. The administration has never argued that the Pegard equipment would have strategic importance for the Soviet Union but only that the ''end user'' would be the Soviet military.