Disarmament DiplomacyIssue No. 18, September 1997
US and Israel Continue to Accuse Iran of Nuclear Ambitions, Remain Suspicious of Russia, China InvolvementIsrael and the US continue to maintain that, at the very least, there is legitimate ground for concern that Iran is working actively to acquire weapons-of-mass-destruction (WMD) and their means of delivery; and that it may be doing so with the support of China and Russia.
In Jerusalem on 11 September, Israel's Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, both directed hostile remarks against Iran. Netanyahu claimed: "Iran is feverishly arming itself with ballistic missiles and seeking also to develop nuclear weapons." Albright stated: "The United States has been concerned about Iran's acquisition of weapons of mass destruction and their general behaviour, and we had a discussion about the importance of what can be done to make sure this region is not exposed to greater danger."
The same day, Netanyahu announced that Israel would be suspending negotiations with Russia over a major natural gas purchase in protest at Russia's alleged support of Iranian proliferation. However, on 15 September, National Infrastructure Minister Ariel Sharon told reporters: "The contact continues... The participation of Russian companies in international tenders in Israel is also still in effect. ... The whole subject is under consideration in the Prime Minister's office."
The same day, Reuters quoted Russia's Prime Minister, Viktor Chernomyrdin, as saying "they're the ones who need the gas, not us," and adding that Israel's claims were "absurd and not deserving of any comment."
On 10 September, The Washington Times reported that Iran was receiving significant, coordinated help from both Russia and China in developing a long-range ballistic missile capability. State Department spokesperson James Foley reacted to the report the same day:
"...the Russian government continues to assure us that it is committed to the highest non-proliferation standards... while we appreciate such assurances, we remain disturbed by the discrepancy between these assurances and reports of Russian firms cooperating with Iran. ... any missile-related cooperation [by China] with Iran is [also] of serious concern to the United States, and we continue to monitor and evaluate reports of any transfer that could contribute to missile programs of concern... [Currently, there is] no evidence that China has conducted activities inconsistent [with its undertakings and assurances]..."
On 11 September, a spokesperson from Russia's Foreign Ministry, Valery Nesterushkin, was quoted by Interfax as expressing some exasperation at the ceaseless stream of reports concerning Russian support for Iran's alleged proliferation programmes:
"The Russian side has repeatedly provided exhaustive explanations to its partners... But there is an impression that nobody...wants to listen to our explanations."
On 15 September, Valery Kartasev, the Press Secretary of Russia's State arms exports company, Rosvooruzheniye, gave an angry denunciation of the media speculation to Itar-Tass:
"The claim that Russian missile technologies are being transferred to Iran is one more canard of our rivals, who are disturbed by Russia's successes in the world weapons market and are constantly trying to discredit our country in the sphere of military-technological policy. This is one more attempt to complicate Russia's emergence on new profitable weapons markets, including the Middle East market..."
Kartasev went on to explain why Rosvooruzheniye could not be implicated in the alleged deals:
"This assertion is absurd for three reasons... firstly, the company does not develop any technologies itself, including missile technologies. Secondly, there is the Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission, which is charged with these problems. Thirdly, the Rosvooruzheniye State Company...is...subjected to the dual control of the President and the Government..."
The same day, the Assistant Director of the Moscow Thermal Technology Institute, Alexander Dorofeyev, told Itar-Tass:
"The chief Russian institute for designing ballistic missiles has neither worked with Iran nor intends to work with it in the future... We have taken...tough measures to ensure that there can be no transfer of such technologies... no Russian organizations are working with Iran on missile technologies."
Reports: Transcript - State Department Briefing, September 10, United States Information Service, 10 September; US, Israel concerned over Iran nuclear weapons, Reuters, 11 September; Russia denies Iran missile deal, Associated Press, 11 September; Netanyahu - Russia helps arm Iran, UPI, 11 September; Russia denies helping Iran make nuke missiles, Reuters, 11 September; PM denies alleged transfer of missile technology to Iran, Interfax, 15 September; Provision of Russian missile technologies to Iran denied, Itar-Tass, 15 September; Israel in gas contact with Russia despite Iran arms, Reuters, 15 September.
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