US ratifies defense pacts with Britain, Australia

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The US Senate has ratified defense trade treaties with Britain and Australia, accords designed to streamline cooperation by eliminating most export licenses, a top lawmaker said Thursday.

The Senate signed off on the agreements late Wednesday, Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry said in a statement.

Britain and Australia are "vital partners" in US foreign policy and "by eliminating unnecessary red tape, the treaties will allow our countries to work even more closely together," said Kerry.

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 the one with Australia 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.

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.

© 2010 AFP

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