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Feds Try to Save Gore's Russia-Iran Deal

Tuesday, 28 November 2000 12:00 AM

Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Tuesday that Secretary of State Madeleine Albright had an "extensive discussion" with Russia's Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov Sunday evening in Vienna on having Russia re-enter the infamous Gore-Chernomyrdin pact. That secret 1995 deal pledged Russia would phase out the sale of conventional weapons to Iran if the U.S. did not impose sanctions required under U.S. law.

Earlier this month, Ivanov wrote Albright a letter saying his country intended to back out of that agreement by Dec. 1, prompting Albright to write back saying she would consider imposing the sanctions waived in 1995, according to State Department officials.

Albright and Ivanov agreed Sunday, and in subsequent talks Monday, to have experts from both countries hash out the issue next week in Moscow.

The question of Russian arms exports to Iran will be one of the most pressing diplomatic issues for President-elect Bush in relations with Moscow. If Bush were to impose sanctions on Russian companies it would constrict U.S. companies from entering joint ventures with Russian satellite entities, for example.

"I think this administration is much too sentimental about Russia and has invested to much faith in its leaders instead of focusing on American interests," said Peter Rodman, the director of National Security Programs for the Nixon Center.

Rodman said that steps could be taken under the next administration to get tough with Russia for its arms sales to Iran, such as making this a top priority in summits, linking the issue to international aid and applying sanctions required under law to Russian companies.

It is quite possible Rodman's vision for U.S.-Russian relations will come to pass under Bush's administration. When news of Gore's deal with former Russian Premier Viktor Chernomyrdin hit the press last month, former Republican secretaries of defense and state signed a statement criticizing the handling of the policy and its substance.

That statement read in part, "We are deeply disturbed by the agreement made between Vice President Gore and then-Russian Premier Chernomyrdin in which America acquiesced in the sale by Russia to Iran of highly threatening military equipment such as modern submarines, fighter planes and wake-homing torpedoes."

Among those who signed the statement was Bush's foreign policy sage, Brent Scowcroft. "President Bush would likely react more firmly to unilateral action by the Russians like this," one GOP House staffer said.

One such action Bush could take would be the imposition of sanctions imposed by the 1992 Iran-Iraq Nonproliferation Act, legislation sponsored by Gore himself. That bill instructs the president to suspend assistance for one year to countries selling arms to Iran, requires the United States to oppose international extensions of credit, suspend technological exchanges for one year involving military and dual use technology.

This last requirement would end any satellite arrangements between U.S. and Russian companies for one year.

Another likely option for the Bush administration, according to this source, would be to apply the 2000 Iran Nonproliferation Act, sponsored by Gore's running mate, Joseph Lieberman. That legislation would require the sanctioning of Russian firms that helped Iran in the first place, ruling out cooperation with Russia on a space station.

Boucher agreed it would be fair to say the State Department is considering applying sanctions if the 1995 Gore-Chernomyrdin agreement could not be salvaged. "We have made clear to the Russian government that there will be consequences if Moscow withdrew from such a commitment and that certain kinds of arms sales could lead to sanctions."

In U.S. strategic interests, the most troubling Russian arms sales to Iran involve the export of Kilo Class submarines and attendant torpedoes to the Iranian Navy between 1994 and 1995, according to Michael Eisenstadt, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and Iran expert.

"This was problematic because they were acquired to target U.S. vessels in the Persian Gulf. If they want to waste money on tanks and artillery let them," he said.

If there is any silver lining in the recent developments, Ivanov has assured Albright that no new arms sales to Iran are in the offing, according to a senior State Department official.

But this assessment may be too optimistic. Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev has announced plans to visit Tehran in January. Also on Nov. 24 the Israeli daily newspaper Yediot Aharonot reported Russia is considering a sale of shoulder-mounted surface-to-air rocket launchers.

"If the Iranians transfer those to Palestinians or Hezbollah that would be a concern," Eisenstadt said.

Copyright 2000 by United Press International. All rights reserved.

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Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Tuesday that Secretary of State Madeleine Albright had an extensive discussion with Russia's Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov Sunday evening in Vienna on having Russia re-enter the infamous Gore-Chernomyrdin pact. That secret 1995...
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Tuesday, 28 November 2000 12:00 AM
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