President Clinton will relax Cold War-era export restrictions on high-performance computers to allow U.S. companies to compete better in world markets, the White House said Monday.
The decision is a victory for technology firms, many of which are headed by Clinton's political supporters.
The restrictions were intended to prevent the spread of technology that might help America's adversaries strengthen their military might, in particular their missiles and nuclear capability.
However, Administration officials say that what was once defined as supercomputer technology is now readily available in laptop computers.
White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry said Clinton is expected to liberalize the rules soon, but has not decided to what degree he should so.
"He will ease it," McCurry said. "There might be ways of staging different export decisions depending on the type of country you're dealing with. London is not like dealing with Baghdad."
Currently, technology manufacturers must apply for Commerce Department export licenses for computers more powerful than 1,500 MTOPS, or a million theoretical operations per second. He suggested that the new ceiling might be from 7,000 to 10,000 MTOPS.
"There is a technical issue about the speed threshold that is still, I believe, under consideration," McCurry said. "I don't believe it's been resolved. The President has not signed off on any final decision about the threshold at which you set various export parameters."