23 Nov 05. Peter Speigel of the FT reported that the UK looks set to lose its five-year battle to win a waiver on strict US arms export controls after being told by Bush administration officials that political opposition on Capitol Hill to the transfer of sensitive technologies had become insurmountable.
US and UK officials say they are now trying to come up with ways to strengthen military technology co-operation without having to change the US export law, the International Traffic in Arms Regulations.
The US promised five years ago to grant an Itar waiver to the UK and Australia and the delay has emerged as one of the most contentious issues between the US and UK since the Iraq war.
British government and industry officials have grown increasingly angry over the issue in recent months, insisting that an exemption is overdue given the UK’s staunch support for the Iraq invasion.
Last year, Geoff Hoon, then UK defence minister, sent a strongly worded letter to Donald Rumsfeld, his American counterpart, warning of a “serious blow to US-UK relations” if the promised waiver was not granted.
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According to government officials, Tony Blair, the UK prime minister, also raised the issue with George W. Bush during the president’s recent visits to London.
The complex Itar rules force the UK and Australia to wade through a weeks-long process to get military export approvals from the State Department, sometimes on mundane weapons parts and components. Currently, only Canada has a waiver.
The Bush administration has repeatedly pushed for the waiver to be passed in Congress but it has been consistently blocked by Henry Hyde, the powerful Republican who chairs the House international relations committee. Among other issues, Mr Hyde has cited the UK’s refusal to strengthen its own laws on transferring military technologies to third countries.
Congress agreed last year to pass a watered-down version of the administration’s proposal, which gave UK and Australian export requests expedited status, but it fell well short of a complete solution.
According to US officials involved in the discussions, talks to find an option to the Itar waiver began earlier this month. They point out that the move to abandon pursuit of the UK and Australian exemption to the arms export law, even temporarily, has not yet become formal administration policy. However, a revised approach has been broached with both British and Australian officials.
The issue has taken on more urgency as US military technology has become more sophisticated, making it difficult for British troops to operate on the same battlefield. US officials hope the latest talks will find ways to increase “interoperability” with the UK, even without the waiver. A UK official said: “We are looking to see if there is any other way we can make progress.”