On 23 May 2016, at a joint press conference with President Quang in Hanoi, President Obama announced the lifting of the U.S. arms embargo against Vietnam, which had been in place in 1984. The U.S. Department of State’s Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC) subsequently announced the end of its policy prohibiting the sale and transfer of lethal weapons to Vietnam.

This announcement follows DDTC’s recent lifting of arms embargoes on Sri Lanka and Cote d’Ivoire. On 4 May 2016, DDTC announced it would be terminating certain licensing restrictions relating to Sri Lanka that were previously required under §7044(e) of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2015, and in previous appropriations acts since 2008, but were not carried forward in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016. The following day, DDTC announced that pursuant to the UN Security Council ending its sanctions regime against Cote d’Ivoire, DDTC would terminate its corresponding export restrictions in accordance with ITAR §126.1(c).

In all three announcements, DDTC stated that effective immediately, it would review on a case-by-case basis applications for licenses to export or temporarily import defense articles and services to or from Vietnam, Sri Lanka, and Cote d’Ivoire respectively. Case-by-case review does not necessarily imply a favorable licensing regime, and the practical effect of these changes on license approvals remains to be seen. Although these policy changes took effect immediately, DDTC also indicated that it would publish Federal Register notices to implement the updates to ITAR §126.1. Other restrictions under ITAR §126.1 on transactions involving Vietnam, Sri Lanka, and Cote d’Ivoire remain in place, pending amendment of the regulations.

Prior to these rule changes, DDTC had imposed a policy of denial on all license applications for exports or imports of defense articles and defense services destined for or originating in Vietnam, Cote d’Ivoire, Sri Lanka, respectively, except for certain limited categories of items eligible for case-by-case review. These categories included: (for Vietnam) non-lethal items, non-lethal, safety-of-use defense articles for lethal end-items, and, pursuant to a November 2014 rule change, limited categories of lethal items intended to enhance maritime security and domain awareness; (for Sri Lanka) items for humanitarian demining or aerial/maritime surveillance; and (for Cote d’Ivoire) items to support certain UN operations, humanitarian uses, and the Ivorian security forces.