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US ratifies defense pacts with Britain, Australia

by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Sept 30, 2010
In a boon to US ties with Australia and Britain, the US Senate has ratified treaties with both allies to streamline military sales by eliminating most export licenses, officials said Thursday.

US President Barack Obama, whose administration had made the pacts a high priority, telephoned British Prime David Cameron to personally share the news, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said in a statement.

"Its passage is evidence of the broad, bipartisan support that undergirds the special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom," added Gibbs, who highlighted the treaty's potential for spurring job growth.

And US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared in a statement that the accords, ratified late Wednesday, "recognize and support the long-standing special relationship between the United States and two of its closest allies."

Washington rarely restricts defense trade with those two allies, but US regulators still needed to sign off on sales, creating a hurdle that military said held up business and policymakers said slowed cooperation.

The treaties had languished in the US Senate since they were signed in 2007 under former president George W. Bush, who inked US-Australia one with then prime minister John Howard during a visit to Sydney.

US lawmakers approved companion legislation aimed at easing worries that the language was not sufficiently clear to protect US high-tech secrets.

"By eliminating unnecessary red tape, the treaties will allow our countries to work even more closely together," said Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, a Democrat.

The new laws "will ensure that United States law enforcement officials will have the tools they need to catch and prosecute anyone" who abuses the treaty regimes, Kerry's office said.

The Obama administration has launched a review of export controls on weapons, saying they are badly in need of simplification.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates complained in April that US rules were so byzantine that they undermined alliances, while doing little to prevent sensitive technology from falling into the hands of determined foes.

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