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U.S. House Committee Urges Fresh Probe of UN Agency WIPO

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July 17 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. is pressing the World Intellectual Property Organization to allow an external probe of shipments it made to Iran and North Korea because the computer technology could have been used for military applications.

The United Nations agency should provide “unfettered access to all documents and witnesses relating to these transfers to Iran and North Korea,” Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Howard Berman, members of the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs, wrote in a letter dated today to WIPO Director General Francis Gurry. WIPO declined to comment as it hasn’t yet received the letter.

The committee has also asked the U.S. government to freeze all WIPO contributions, according to a separate July 12 letter from Ros-Lehtinen to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The U.S. plans to use “all elements of American power” to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, Clinton told reporters last night in Jerusalem. Iran has been the subject of four rounds of UN sanctions, including the supply or sale of equipment and technology, aimed at curbing the development of such weapons. The WIPO shipments may violate UN and U.S. sanctions, said Ros-Lehtinen and Berman.

Iran and North Korea were beneficiaries of “standard information-technology equipment” after meeting WIPO’s needs-assessment and validation procedures, Edward Kwakwa, legal counsel at the Geneva-based organization, said July 4, adding that the programs didn’t contain the type of technology or training prohibited by UN Security Council resolutions.

‘Rogue Regimes’

Kwakwa reiterated today that WIPO is committed to full transparency on its activities and will continue to provide any information requested by its member states.

“The transfer of computer technology to two rogue regimes with active nuclear weapons programs and autocratic control over telecommunications is an outrage and cannot be excused as a standard WIPO technical assistance program,” Ros-Lehtinen wrote in the letter to Clinton.

WIPO promotes the use and classification of intellectual property and is mandated by its 185 member nations to provide materials to help developing countries modernize their patent offices.

“It is about your organization’s misuse of those programs to send dual-use technology to two specific countries that are subject to Security Council sanctions,” the two U.S. representatives said in today’s letter. “We are also disturbed by your ongoing attempts to keep these technology transfers a secret within your organization.”

Greater Transparency

WIPO also had a technology-supply project with North Korea to support intellectual-property databases for inventors’ certificates, patents and non-patent literature, according to internal documents. Technical assistance included desktop computers, servers, printers and firewalls, the documents show.

The U.S. State Department said this month it was investigating WIPO’s activities in Iran and called for greater transparency and accountability at the institution.

The House Committee on Foreign Affairs wants to ensure that WIPO’s member states are “fully consulted prior to the establishment of any future technical assistance programs,” according to Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican, and Berman, a California Democrat.

WIPO has blocked the external investigation requested by the U.S. and sought to punish whistle-blowers in the organization, Ros-Lehtinen, chairwoman of the committee, and Berman, the panel’s top Democrat, wrote today.

Panel Meeting

The House panel plans to meet Aug. 1 to examine the ramifications on sanctions policy of the technology transfers and has requested Esther Brimmer, assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs, and Betty King, U.S. permanent representative to the UN in Geneva, to appear.

The Obama administration has urged Israel to refrain from a threatened military attack on Iran to see if negotiations and economic sanctions imposed by the U.S. and its European allies will work.

To contact the reporter on this story: Giles Broom in Geneva at gbroom@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Frank Connelly at fconnelly@bloomberg.net