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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 20, November 1997

Russia-Iran Cooperation Controversy Rumbles On

On 12 November, the US House of Representatives passed, by voice vote, legislation - The Iran Missile Proliferation Sanctions Act - aimed at punishing Russia for its alleged support of Iran's missile-development programme. The legislation, vehemently opposed by the Clinton Administration, instructs the President to name to Congress, within 30 days of the legislation's enactment, any companies strongly suspected, in the basis of "credible evidence", of having provided such support to Iran after 8 August 1995 - the date on which Russia joined the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). Congress would then be entitled to seek the imposition on stringent sanctions against the State involved. According to House International Affairs Committee Chair Benjamin Gilman (Republican - New York), speaking on the day of the vote: "The Iranian military continues to make rapid progress in developing long-range missiles with assistance from Russian firms... It is now time for Congress to say enough is enough."

The legislation, which now moves to the Senate, was unanimously approved by the House International Affairs Committee on 24 October. Russia reacted strongly, with Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov stating in Jerusalem: "Russia has and will continue economic and political ties with Iran, but there is no basis to rumours that the Iranians are receiving missiles from Russia." Primakov was also reacting to frequent criticism on the matter from the Israeli government. In Moscow on 28 October, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, a spokesperson for President Yeltsin, observed that: "We hear these unfounded reproaches most often from two sources - from Washington and Tel Aviv... We suppose there is a coordinated exchange of information and attempts to put pressure on Russia on the whole range of relations with Iran, including economic cooperation. ... We think that this is a consensus policy aimed at forcing our country out of...cooperation with Iran... [But Iran] is an important partner for us."

On 7 November, the US Commerce Department perhaps fanned Congressional flames when it named a Russian company among five companies currently being investigated on suspicion of dealing with Iran in contravention of US non-proliferation legislation. According to Undersecretary of State for Trade Stuart Eizenstat, if investigations proved such contravention, sanctions against these companies were a "real option." The companies are: Gazprom (Russia), Bow Valley (Canada), Total SA (France - see last issue), the Bakrie Group (Indonesia), and Petronas (Malaysia). Eizenstat stated: "We are trying to work to develop a multilateral regime which the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act admonishes us to do...[in order] to deter Iran from the capacity of acquiring long-range and medium-range missiles and, in particular, chemical and biological warheads..."

On 14 November, Russian authorities reported that they had arrested and deported an Iranian diplomat on suspicion of missile-related espionage. According to a statement from the Federal Security Service (FSB): "On 14 November security organs caught an Iranian citizen red-handed, thwarting his attempt to obtain for money design documents for missile technology from Russian specialists."

The previous day, Israel's Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, told British Parliamentarians in London that:

"If the supply of Russian technology is not stopped then within a year Iran [will] become self-sufficient and [will] be able to create those missiles on its own. ... It is very important that Russia receives appeals from all members of the international community because we are all at risk. We have to assume that they [the missiles] will be used... Iran armed with ballistic missiles could sway the whole politics of the Middle East and undermine existing security arrangements..."

Reports: Panel OKs Iran missile sanctions, Associated Press, 24 October; Russia denies Iran missile rumours, Associated Press, 26 October; Russia hits back at Israel and US over Iran ties, Reuters, 29 October; US warns five companies of sanctions over Iran, Reuters, 7 November; Bill punishes Russians helping Iran, Associated Press, 12 November; Russia detains Iranian seeking arms plans, Reuters, 14 November; US House-Iran bill opposed by Clinton Administration, Nikkei English News, 14 November; US launches drive against missile cooperation with Iran, Itar-Tass, 14 November; Netanyahu - Russia still giving Iran missile help, Reuters, 14 November.

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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