Washington, 17 July 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. House of Representatives is set to vote today to override President Bill Clinton's veto of a bill that would have mandated sanctions against Russian and other companies suspected of helping Iran develop missile, chemical, and nuclear weapons.
Congressman Ben Gilman (R-New York) -- the influential chairman of the House of Representatives' International Relations Committee -- sponsored the legislation and is pressing hard in the Republican-dominated Congress to overturn Clinton's veto.
In what seemed to be a clash of partisan politics, he scorned Clinton's own efforts to penalize foreign firms supplying Iran with weapons technology and equipment.
Gilman called an announcement by the White House this week that trade and aid sanctions will be imposed against nine Russian companies suspected of aiding Iran's missile program "a cynical effort to head off an override of the president's veto."
He said this is obvious from the timing of the announcement, adding, "it is shameful that the administration has not taken meaningful action until now against the threat to international peace and security posed by the proliferation of Russian missile technology to Iran."
The legislation -- called the "Iran Missile Proliferation Act of 1998" -- was introduced in October and later passed overwhelmingly by both congressional chambers. But Clinton vetoed it last month, saying, among other things, that it would damage cooperation with Russia on the issue.
Gilman commented on the bill at a hearing he was chairing on U.S. relations with Russia.
The State Department's top adviser on the new independent states, ambassador Steven Sestanovich, said in testimony before the International Relations Committee that the White House approach is more effective than the congressional action because it was taken in cooperation with the Russian government.
He said the U.S. has worked hard with Russia for 18 months to stop the flow of sensitive technology from Russia to Iran.
"Our objective has been to see Russian government policies embodied in an effective export control system that actually prevents the transfer of illicit goods and technology into the wrong hands," he said.
Sestanovich said the Russian government's own investigation that uncovered the activities of the nine companies named by the U.S. shows the approach is working.
Russian authorities said Wednesday the commission that investigated the illegal exports may bring administrative and even criminal charges against the institutions involved.
Sestanovich said the congressional legislation would be unilateral action imposed on Russia and thus ineffective.
He declared that "sanctions ... will not prevent Iran and others from seeking missile technologies, nor will they remove the temptation for cash-starved companies and individuals to do business with Iran."
But Gilman said it is more important now than before to enact the legislation because of a report to Congress this week that ballistic missiles from rogue states could hit American cities with almost no warning.
The report by a panel of defense and security experts said several countries, including Iran, are developing long-range missiles with technology from Russia and China and that this is a serious threat to the United States. The report said the possibility of a long-range missile strike against the U.S. is not some distant menace but could happen within five years.
Gilman said in light of these findings, it is imperative to give the American people the kind of insurance provided by the Iran Missile Proliferation Sanctions Act.
A two-thirds majority of those voting would be needed to override Clinton's veto. Congressional aides said they expect to get the number of votes needed in the House of Representatives today. A similar vote will then be held on the floor of the U.S. Senate. An aide said the Senate vote has not yet been scheduled, but if the veto override succeeds in the House, action in the Senate could come as early as next week.