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A se­nior Pen­tagon of­fi­cial told Congress last week that the U.S. gov­ern­ment is con­cerned about the leak­age of em­bar­goed U.S. space tech­nol­ogy to China.

Gre­gory L. Schulte, deputy as­sis­tant de­fense sec­re­tary for space pol­icy, was asked dur­ing a House Armed Ser­vices sub­com­mit­tee hear­ing whether il­licit ex­ports of U.S. satel­lite tech­nol­ogy by the French com­pany Thales would boost China’s am­bi­tious space weapons pro­gram.

Mr. Schulte was ques­tioned by Rep. Michael R. Turner, Ohio Re­pub­li­can and chair­man of the strate­gic forces sub­com­mit­tee, about a re­cent let­ter he and two other law­mak­ers had writ­ten to Sec­re­tary of State Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton on Thales’ sale of satel­lites to China that con­tained re­stricted U.S. space tech­nol­ogy. The let­ter raised con­cerns about whether such tech trans­fers would boost the “in­creas­ingly ag­gres­sive ac­tiv­ity in space [by] the Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of China.”

Mr. Schulte said the State Depart­ment is in­ves­ti­gat­ing the Thales satel­lite ex­port case.

“The leak­age of sen­si­tive tech­nol­ogy to coun­tries like China has, of course, been fore­most in our mind as we’ve thought about ex­port con­trol re­form,” he said.

China’s long-range mis­siles were im­proved dur­ing the 1990s af­ter two U.S. com­pa­nies il­lic­itly shared U.S. space tech­nol­ogy with Bei­jing.

Mr. Schulte said the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion is plan­ning to loosen tech­nol­ogy ex­port con­trols by mov­ing some items on the U.S. Mu­ni­tions List to the more-eas­ily li­censed Com­merce Con­trol List, but “only space items that are al­ready widely avail­able.”

“And we are not propos­ing re­mov­ing the Tianan­men Square sanc­tions that would re­main in place even with ex­port-con­trol re­form, mean­ing that items still on the Mu­ni­tions List could not be ex­ported to China,” Mr. Schulte said.

“And, also mean­ing, that we would not al­low the launch of satel­lites from Chi­nese launch ve­hi­cles.”

The ad­min­is­tra­tion is also propos­ing that, for China, all items moved off the Mu­ni­tions List would still be sub­ject to re­stric­tive li­cens­ing and con­trols.

“So we are very con­scious of China, and we have de­vel­oped our ex­port­con­trol pro­pos­als with China very much in mind,” Mr. Schulte said.

“In fact, we be­lieve that, to the ex­tent that we fo­cus on those tech­nolo­gies that are most sen­si­tive, we can in­crease the fo­cus of our ex­port-con­trol and en­force­ment ef­forts to avoid sit­u­a­tions like this in the fu­ture.”

Asked why no sanc­tions have been im­posed on Thales for the il­licit U.S. satel­lite tech­nol­ogy ex­port to China, Mr. Schulte said, “We are clearly con­cerned at any leak­age of sen­si­tive tech­nol­ogy to China and sup­port all en­force­ment ef­forts there.”

Thales came un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the State Depart­ment sev­eral years ago for of­fer­ing what it ad­ver­tised as an “Itar-free” satel­lite for sale, mean­ing it did not re­quire U.S. li­cens­ing.

Sev­eral of the satel­lites were sold to China, and U.S. in­ves­ti­ga­tors found that they con­tained U.S. satel­lite tech­nol­ogy that was re­stricted for ex­port to China.

To date, the State Depart­ment has not sanc­tioned Thales for the ex­ports. in­creas­ing mis­sile de­fenses for Is­rael, which likely would face a large-scale mis­sile at­tack from Iran in re­sponse to any mil­i­tary ac­tion against Iran’s for­ti­fied nu­clear fa­cil­i­ties, Mr. Panetta said.

“We have very close mil­i­tary re­la­tion­ships [with Is­rael],” Mr. Panetta said. “We ob­vi­ously talk about a lot of things in terms of plans and train­ing, etc., and we will con­tinue to have that kind of re­la­tion­ship in the fu­ture.”

The de­fense sec­re­tary went on to out­line the U.S. po­si­tion on an Is­raeli at­tack, stat­ing that the United States shares Is­rael’s con­cerns but wants more time to al­low sanc­tions to work be­fore con­duct­ing an at­tack.

“We ob­vi­ously re­spect their sovereignty. We un­der­stand that they have to make de­ci­sions, you know, that are in their in­ter­est; the United States also has to make de­ci­sions that are in our in­ter­est,” he said.

“And ob­vi­ously we will do what­ever we can to de­fend Is­rael, but more im­por­tantly, when it comes to Iran, we have com­mon cause against Iran.

“We have the same con­cerns as Is­rael with re­gards to their ob­tain­ing a nu­clear weapon, and we’ve made very clear we are go­ing to pre­vent them from ob­tain­ing a nu­clear weapon. And we are also go­ing to en­sure that they do not close the Straits of Hor­muz.”

Asked why the United States ap­pears to be tak­ing a strong po­si­tion on Iran’s nu­clear weapons, while say­ing less about North Korea’s nu­clear arms pro­gram that is fur­ther along, Mr. Panetta said the United States is con­cerned about the North Korean nu­clear arms and is con­tin­u­ing to press Py­ongyang to “step back” from fur­ther de­vel­op­ing nu­clear arms.

As for Iran, “Ob­vi­ously the con­cern there is the desta­bi­liza­tion that would oc­cur in that re­gion if Iran were to ob­tain a nu­clear weapon,” he said.

Michele Flournoy, who in Fe­bru­ary stepped down as un­der­sec­re­tary of de­fense for pol­icy, said dur­ing re­marks last week that two coun­tries in the re­gion are set to de­velop nu­clear weapons if Iran get the arms. She did not name the coun­tries, but spec­u­la­tion has fo­cused on Saudi Ara­bia and Turkey.

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