Disarmament DiplomacyIssue No. 52, November 2000
Gore-Chernomyrdin Arms-to-Iran Agreements Continue in Spotlight
As reported in the last issue, controversy has erupted in Congress over a 1995 aide memoire between Vice President Gore and Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin concerning conventional arms sales from Moscow to Iran. Under the terms of the aide memoire, the US would offer no opposition to the completion of already-contracted arms transfers on the understanding that no transfers would take place after December 31, 1999 - a deadline which press reports, quoting letters from Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, suggested had not been met. Republican members of Congress allege that the Gore-Chernomyrdin agreement is at variance with the 1992 Iran-Iraq Non-Proliferation Act, co-sponsored by Gore himself and Republican Senator John McCain. Defenders of the Vice President insist that this is not so, and that the aide memoire represented a reasonable accommodation designed to encourage a fundamental revision by the Kremlin of its arms-to-Iran policy.
On November 1, Republican members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee failed to garner enough signatures - 10 of the 19-member Committee - to issue a subpoena forcing the State Department to hand over numerous documents relating to the 1995 arrangement. On October 30, the Department had offered to make what spokesperson Richard Boucher described as "key documents" available to Congressional leaders on condition that they remain undisclosed to the public. Boucher argued: "We have an obligation to sustain a policy that has improved the national security of the United States over the last six years by limiting the number and quality of weapons that are gone to Iran... We are trying to meet the Congressional requests in a manner that doesn' simultaneously destroy our policy, which would not be in our national interest." The offer was dismissed by John Czwartacki, spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, as "totally inadequate".
On October 25, testifying before the Foreign Relations Committee, John Barker, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Non-Proliferation Controls, argued that Congress had not been kept in the dark about developments five years before: "That understanding between the Vice President and Russian Prime Minister...was announced publicly in a fact sheet...immediately after the June 1995 Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission meeting. The understandings the Vice President reached in 1995 on both nuclear and conventional matters were briefed to Congress." Congress was not given access to a number of detailed, classified documents, the confinement of which to the Executive was, Barker claimed, "common practice for all Administrations". In Moscow the same day, Chernomyrdin issued a statement noting: "We found a decision that was in the interests of both the United States and Russia. What we did with Iran posed no threat to the United States." The statement continued: "They [Congressional Republicans] were waiting for this moment just before the election. They are playing the Russian card."
On October 24, a statement expressing grave concern at the implications of the 1995 agreement was issued by four former Republican Secretaries of State - James Baker, Lawrence Eagleburger, Henry Kissinger and George Schultz - four former Republican Secretaries of Defense - Frank Carlucci, Donald Rumsfeld, James Schlesinger and Caspar Weinberger - former Republican National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, former Democratic National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, and former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director James Woolsey. The statement claimed that the Gore-Chernomyrdin accord allowed for "highly threatening military equipment such as modern submarines, fighter planes and wake-homing torpedoes" to be sold to Iran. Gore campaign spokesperson Jim Kennedy responded by observing (October 25) that no "member of Congress, and none of these former officials, complained about it then or in the years since. Their inaccurate complaints about it, only now, 14 days before the election, speaks for itself."
On October 26, Secretary of State Albright received a letter on the issue from 10 senior Republican Senators including Foreign Relations Committee Chair Jesse Helms, Armed Services Committee Chair John Warner, and John McCain. The letter stated bluntly: "In essence, you are saying to the Congress and the American people: ' us.' Considering the fact that almost everything we have learned about this secret deal has come from the news media and not the Administration, we respectfully decline. ... Congress has a right and responsibility to review all the relevant documents, and to judge for itself whether the transfers the Vice President signed off on were covered by US non-proliferation laws..."
Note: on November 22, Washington Post columnist Jim Hoagland reported that Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov had informed Secretary of State Albright on November 3 of his government' intention to no longer abide by the terms of the 1995 Gore-Chernomyrdin understanding after December 1, 2000. Ivanov reportedly identified the disclosure of sensitive information relating to the agreement as necessitating Moscow' move. The Clinton Administration, however, reacted with prompt anger, warning of the possibility of sanctions unless Russia recommitted itself to the accord. See next issue for details and reaction.
Reports: State Dept denies Gore-Russia deal, Associated Press, October 25; US officials defend 1995 Gore pact with Moscow, Reuters, October 25; Concerns raised in Gore-Russia deal, Associated Press, October 25; Congressmen want Russia-Iran papers, Associated Press, October 26; Senators threaten subpoena on Gore' Russia deal, Reuters, October 26; Transcript - State non-proliferation official on Russian arms talks, US State Department (Washington File), October 30; Congress offered Russian documents, Associated Press, October 30; Republicans press demand for Gore-Russia documents, Reuters, October 31; Republicans fail in bid for State Dept subpoena, Reuters, November 1; From Russia with Chutzpah, Washington Post, November 22; Russia risks US sanctions on arms ales to Iran, Washington Post, November 23.
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