White House Holds ‘Identification’ Meeting

As a sign of how serious the whole issue of diamond identification has become, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy held a conference on “Technologies for [Diamond] Identification and Certification” in January.

In addition to an all-star roster of geologists and gemologists, the event drew representatives of the industry, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), federal agencies from the Customs Service to the State Department, and the governments of the United Kingdom, Botswana, South Africa, Belgium, Israel, Switzerland, Russia, and Sierra Leone.

The group’s mandate was laid out early by Gayle E. Smith, a member of the President’s National Security Council: “We need a regime that is tight enough that I can’t just put diamonds in my pocket and walk off with them.”

National Security Advisor Samuel R. “Sandy” Berger appeared briefly at the event, calling conflict diamonds a “national security issue” for the United States. “We take the issue of conflict diamonds deadly seriously,” he said. “These precious gems can be instruments of death. The international community needs to develop a certification regime now-not one that is perfect, but one that will significantly increase the cost of trading in conflict diamonds.” He told the group they were “using scientific and technical expertise to alleviate human suffering.”

While most felt a foolproof, cost-effective way to either identify or “tag” diamonds is years away, some felt there were some promising avenues of research. Industry representatives who attended the conference found it a positive event that may shed some light on a difficult problem.

Following morning speeches, the group gathered into breakout sessions, discussing technologies to ensure a chain of custody, spectroscopic analysis, chemical analysis and age dating, and tagging technologies.

The officials involved-all members of the outgoing Clinton administration-had wanted Bush administration officials to attend but said their replacements in the Office of Science and Technology had not yet been appointed.

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