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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Daily Press Briefing


10-11Reported Possible Transfer of Communications Satellite to China
10-11,12--Licensing Process/Upgrades/Procedures

DPB # 72
THURSDAY, JUNE 18, 1998, 1:05 P.M.


QUESTION: The New York Times has an article about the possible transfer by Hughes Communications to China of communications satellites that could potentially be used by the Chinese military and also for mobile phone use in the region. Has there been a rethinking of US policy on whether this satellite should, indeed, be transferred, and where does this stand?

MR. RUBIN: I think the phrase "rethinking US policy" on this satellite is in the minds of perhaps some of the authors and not an accurate representation of what's going on here. Generally speaking, when upgrades are presented to existing licenses, they are circulated in the inter-agency process for review in accordance with normal procedures. So every time there is an upgrade in a particular request, the system is designed to review that upgrade. That is the way the system works.

And if the author of any particular article believes that every time an upgrade of a satellite or another licensed product is examined, that's a "rethinking of US policy," then that author would have a lot of policy changes which to write about but wouldn't understand the policy. Whenever there is an upgrade proposed by the licensee, it is our job to review the application in accordance with the normal procedures.

And with respect to any specific case, I am sort of constrained by the regulations with respect to proprietary information, but I can say that a particular company referred to a particular license on a particular satellite and talked about upgrades. So whenever there is an upgrade, in whatever case there might be, the normal procedure is for us to examine it carefully. And the suggestion that the State Department has opposed a particular upgrade on a particular satellite while the State Department is undergoing its normal review would be a wild exaggeration.

QUESTION: Jamie, how long would one of these reviews normally take?

MR. RUBIN: These are very complex issues. They can take a short time. They can take a long time. As you can imagine, in recent weeks I have had an opportunity to learn a bit more about our licensing process and talk to some of the folks who do this work. And it is extremely technical, extremely detailed, legal, scientific and policy work, and so it is common for licenses to be - in general -- common for licenses to be mulled over for months, proposals made for changes in the equipment, new licenses requested and then licenses granted years after the original request might be made. So there's a constant review, a constant upgrading - if there is an upgrade - a constant review process and since the matters are so technical and they require an extraordinary amount of technical expertise and analysis, they are not the kind of decisions that are made overnight.

QUESTION: So the decision has been made that this particular sale or transfer will be made? It's just a case of what -

MR. RUBIN: No. There's no decision that's been made; there is no decision to make. When a licensee requests an upgrade in his license or her license, it's reviewed. You don't have to decide to review it. You just have to review it. That's the regulation, that's the process, and that's the procedure. And to suggest that a dramatic new decision has been made to review an upgrade is what perhaps might have misled some readers of some newspapers.

QUESTION: Without naming the company, can you say what the particular upgrade was?

MR. RUBIN: I don't see why that would advance your knowledge of the situation since you can read and I can read.

QUESTION: But you just said the story was wrong.

MR. RUBIN: No, I didn't. I was very careful to not say the story was wrong.

[end of document]

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