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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 36, April 1999

Russia Promises Action on Cooperation with Iran as US Imposes Sanctions over Syria

On 2 April, the US State Department announced the imposition of sanctions against three Russian companies - the Tula Design Bureau, the Volsky Mechanical Plant and Tzniitochmash - for allegedly supplying anti-tank weapons to Syria. According to spokesperson James Rubin, the US had also determined that the authorities in Moscow were implicated in the transfer, but that a decision had been made not to impose sanctions against the Russian Government or to suspend aid to the country. The US places Syria on its list of 'rogue' States which it claims are bent on proliferation and/or involved in the support or sponsorship of terrorism. On 3 April, Russian Defence Minister Igor Sergeyev reacted angrily: "I condemn the introduction of such sanctions... They are groundless." On 4 April, the Foreign Ministry issued a more detailed response:

"New US sanctions against the Russian companies, which is illegal from the point of view of international law, hits one more blow at Russian-US relations already heavily challenged by the US military action against sovereign Yugoslavia... The US Administration has made a new attempt to replace international law with its own legislation and has once again demonstrated its negligence of international standards and principle of behaviour. ... The Russian side voices its protest against yet another anti-Russian action by the US Administration. We reserve a right for taking adequate steps in response."

The move follows the imposition in January of US sanctions against three Russian entities alleged to be supporting Iranian proliferation programmes (see Disarmament Diplomacy No. 33, pp. 58-9). On 17 March, Atomic Energy Minister Yevgeny Adamov offered to scale back Russia's civil nuclear cooperation with Iran if the US withdrew the January sanctions against two of the three entities involved - the Scientific Research and Design Institute for Power Technology (NIKIET), and the Medeleyev University of Chemical Technology. Adamov stated that all links between the two Institutes and Iran had been broken off. He emphasized, however, that Russia intended to proceed with the construction of a 1,000-megawatt light-water civil nuclear reactor in Bushehr: "We will properly and completely fulfill all our obligations to Iran."

State Department spokesperson James Foley reacted on 18 March: "We welcome statements by Minister Adamov that Russia is willing to curtail illicit cooperation with Iran's nuclear programme. So this is a potentially positive statement on his part... [However,] we would like to see action taken to remedy the problem before the penalties can be reconsidered... What we want to see...is the action taken to eliminate the problem so we can verify [that] the cooperation has ceased. And in that context, we will be willing to look at the penalties."

The issue of Russian-Iranian nuclear cooperation was raised by Israel's Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, on a visit to Moscow on 22 March. Speaking to reporters after meeting Netanyahu, Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov insisted: "Russia has been observing all international norms relating to export controls and does everything necessary to prevent leaks that would allow proliferation of mass destruction weapons..."

Also on 22 March, 34 Senators (20 Democrat, 14 Republican) wrote to Vice President Al Gore encouraging him to exert more pressure on Russia to terminate all nuclear and nuclear-related cooperation with Iran. The letter stated: "We want to urge you make Iranian acquisitions of Russian ballistic missile and nuclear weapons technology an issue of the highest priority... [T]he leakage of [such]...technology has not abated. ... The fact is that the Russian Government's efforts to staunch the flow of this dangerous technology to Iran have been decidedly lacklustre. ..."

Reports: Russia to offer US deal to end Iran nuclear aid - NYT, Reuters, 17 March; Russia offers Iran nuke link deal, Associated Press, 17 March; Russia offers nuke work reduction, Associated Press, 18 March; US wants Russia action on Iran, Reuters, 18 March; Russia - no leaking of technology, Associated Press, 22 March; Senators demand pressure on Russia, Associated Press, 23 March; Russia condemns US sanctions over Syria arms, Reuters, 3 April; Russia says may strike back new US sanctions, Reuters, 5 April.

© 1999 The Acronym Institute.

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