The Commerce Department approved exports to Iraq of $1.5 billion in equipment with potential military uses during the six years preceding Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, congressional sources say.
A partial list of the licenses obtained this week by The Associated Press show the items included emulsion explosives, nuclear power equipment, lasers, computer equipment, aircraft supplies and chemical materials.Some of the exports went directly to Iraq's Ministry of Defense, to the Iraqi Atomic Energy Commission and to Saad 16, a ballistic missile research facility in Iraq, according to the sources, who asked not to be identified.
Both the administration and Congress, which subpoenaed the list of 750 companies that obtained licenses for sensitive exports to Iraq between 1985 and 1990, have refused to disclose the exact nature of the exports.
A House subcommittee, led by Rep. Doug Barnard, D-Ga., asked Commerce Secretary Robert Mosbacher last fall to make public information on U.S. exports to Iraq of materials that might have gone into that country's arsenal of chemical, nuclear and biological weapons.
The department gave the information to the subcommittee but refused to make it public, citing a federal export law that prohibits the release of proprietary business information unless the commerce secretary determines it's in the national interest to do so.
That law also permits a committee of Congress to make such information public if it determines that it's in the national interest. But Barnard, under pressure from the administration to keep the export information secret, has not scheduled a subcommittee vote on the issue.
Barnard declined Thursday to discuss the Iraqi export license issue. His press secretary, Steve Cohen, said it will probably be 45 to 60 days before the congressman decides whether to proceed with releasing the information.
"He wants to have his ducks entirely in a row and be completely on top of the situation before proceeding," Cohen said. "It's especially sensitive now" that the United States is at war with Iraq.
Barnard's subcommittee, in a letter to Mosbacher last fall, suggested that the law's prohibition against disclosing proprietary business information could be satisfied by omitting the names of the companies involved and releasing a "sanitized" listing of sensitive equipment exported to Iraq.
But Dennis Kloske, undersecretary of commerce for export administration, told the panel that "there is no reliable basis for judging that information gleaned from the public disclosure you proposed might not damage U.S. business interests."