Congress moved to punish foreign companies for selling secret technology to help Soviet submarines evade detection, and reaction from a Japanese company involved was swift with yesterday's resignations of its two top officers. The Senate voted Tuesday night to ban Toshiba and Kongsberg Vaapenfabrikk from selling products in the United States for at least two years.
Support for similar legislation is growing in the House, despite Reagan administration appeals not to retaliate against Toshiba, a giant Japanese electronics company, and Kongsberg, Norway's state-owned arms manufacturer.
Toshiba president Sugiichiro Watari and chairman Shoichi Saba announced their resignations at a hastily called news conference yesterday in Tokyo only hours after the Senate vote.
Akira Iwahashi, president of Toshiba Machine, the subsidiary involved in the technology sales, said the divisions that export to communist countries would be eliminated for an unspecified period.
Toshiba Corporation had estimated sales of $2.76 billion in the United States in 1986, including $344.8 million worth of semiconductors. Other products include color televisions, video recorders, and personal computers.
E. Allan Wendt, the State Department's senior representative for strategic technology policy, acknowledged Tuesday that the sales have resulted in substantial security damage. But he urged Congress not to ``limit presidential discretion and flexibility in the conduct of foreign policy.''
A House subcommittee chairman, Rep. Don Bonker (D) of Washington, said he agreed that mandatory penalties would be too arbitrary and would do little to prevent similar cases.
But he warned the administration that Congress is ``aroused over this thing. There is no way you are going to hold back legislation.''
A few hours later, the Senate made good on that prediction when it approved the proposal by Sen. Jake Garn (R) of Utah to ban the companies' imports from the US.
The proposal was added as an amendment to a sweeping trade bill under consideration in the Senate. Products made by the two companies would be barred for at least two years and as many as five.
Mr. Bonker, chairman of the foreign affairs subcommittee on international economic policy and trade, suggested a compromise that would give the administration time to persuade US allies to adopt tougher penalties for illegal export of vital technology to Soviet-bloc nations.
It would couple the grace period for negotiations with ``a kicker so that if the countries did not enact tougher legislation, there'd be a penalty,'' Bonker said.
Mr. Wendt said he was not authorized to endorse Bonker's proposal but added, ``You're moving in a direction that would be something that we would certainly seriously consider.''
The Senate measure includes some exceptions, at the president's discretion, including one for Penguin guided missiles that the Norwegian company sells to the Pentagon.
But any future violations of agreements designed to keep high-tech military equipment from falling into Soviet hands would prompt retaliatory action.
A Toshiba subsidiary and Kongsberg sold computerized propeller milling machines in 1983 and 1984 that enabled the Soviet Union to quiet its submarines, reducing the ability of US forces to track them.