Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Attempt to Cut Arms Sales Makes No Progress So Far

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Attempt to Cut Arms Sales Makes No Progress So Far

Article excerpt

ONE year after President Bush called for new curbs on weapon sales to the Middle East, there has been some progress toward international controls, but no hint of any arms deals forgone.

The world's five largest arms exporters - the United States, Russia, China, Britain, and France - have held three rounds of talks on the subject. The latest session was held in Washington last week.

Administration officials point out that the mere fact these discussions have been held, and will continue, is unprecedented.

Critics, though, focus on what they call the rather paltry results so far, which include general promises of future restraint and movement toward an international registry of arms sales.

"If seriously pursued, these talks would have enormous potential to limit the arms trade," said Arms Control Association assistant director Lee Feinstein last week.

"However, the negotiators so far have avoided using the talks as a forum for discussing placing actual limits on arms sales to the Middle East."

At last week's Washington session the Big 5 exporters agreed they would not transfer any equipment related to chemical, biological, or nuclear weaponry to any other country in the world.

This step was hailed as "quite an achievement" by a State Department official who briefed reporters on the results of the meetings.

But negotiators didn't agree to exchange data on prospective weapon sales to the Middle East before those weapons are actually shipped.

US officials say they think such an exchange is crucial, since it would allow discussion of controversial sales before they're wrapped up.

China, however, opposes the idea, according to US officials.

Arguing that a historic opportunity that was brought about by the end of the cold war and the Gulf war may be on the verge of being "squandered," a broadly based Washington study group last week urged that more specific steps be taken to build on the general guidelines already agreed upon. …

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