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Washington Journal: U.S. Sanctions Russia Over Technology Trade With Iran

  • Julie Moffett

Washington, 13 January 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. will impose economic penalties on three Russian institutes for allegedly helping Iran develop missile or nuclear programs.

U.S. National Security Council Chairman Samuel Berger announced the sanctions Tuesday during a speech at a Washington conference on nuclear proliferation issues.

Berger identified the three Russian enterprises as: The Moscow Aviation Institute; D. Mendeleyev University of Chemical Technology, and NIKIET (The Scientific Research and Design Institute of Power Technology). Berger said U.S. President Bill Clinton will ban exports to and imports from these institutes and cut off any U.S. assistance to them. Seven other Russian institutes were sanctioned last July for similar cooperation with Iran.

Berger said the U.S. will continue to work "aggressively" with the Russian leadership to halt Russian entities' cooperation with Iran's missile and nuclear programs. He added that the U.S. is urging Russia to enforce and strengthen its export controls and take actions against Russian entities that violate those controls. Berger said the entities are only harming their own nation by "selling out Russia's own non-proliferation and security interests for their own financial gain."

Berger said the U.S. will also continue to take actions of its own against Russian organizations, companies and institutes that continue to help Iran with its nuclear and missile programs.

Berger explained: "Let me be very clear. The (U.S.) administration has authority to act against entities that violate international non-proliferation standards, and we will use that authority to protect our security. In the end, though, the most effective shield against proliferation from Russia is not U.S. penalties, but a Russian export control system that is designed to work and does. Only Russia can police its own borders, factories and technology industries."

Berger also said he was particularly concerned that Russia's economic crisis had heightened the challenge for Russia to control the leakage of sensitive weapons-related materials and technology beyond its borders. He added that Russian weapons scientists and institutes face increased financial pressures to sell their wares to whomever is in the market, including rogue states.

Overall, Berger says 1998 was a "troubling year; a year of living dangerously" in terms of nuclear proliferation. He cited the nuclear tests conducted by India and Pakistan in May as "blowing the lid off South Asia's long-simmering nuclear rivalry."

Berger also said the Iran's July testing of the Shahab-3 missile dangerously extended that nation's capability to target American friends and allies in the Middle East, as well as U.S. forces in the region.

Berger said: "Combined with Iran's continued pursuit of nuclear weapons, this missile development threatens the stability of the region, as if the stability of that region needed further threatening."

Berger also cited as other dangerous developments, North Korea's August testing of a Taepo Cong missile over Japan, and Iraq's continued refusal to cooperate with U.N. weapons inspectors.

In addition to Berger's address, the conference also featured a panel of experts focusing specifically on proliferation issues involving Russia and Iran.

The first panelist was Robert Gallucci, Dean of the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University in Washington and a former deputy executive chairman of UNSCOM. Gallucci said he was particularly concerned about the Russia-Iran nuclear relationship.

Gallucci said: "Russia is alone right now in providing assistance to Iran in the nuclear area, notwithstanding Iran's non-proliferation treaty status. No other country believes it is prudent or wise to engage in nuclear cooperation with Iran."

Gallucci said the U.S. is concerned that Russia's aid to help complete Iran's Bushehr nuclear reactor will go further -- far enough to eventually permit Iran to develop a nuclear weapon's option. He added that the combination of Russia's assistance to Iran in both the area of ballistic missiles and nuclear technology creates a "troubling and unique threat" to the stabilization of the entire region.

Gallucci said that the U.S. has expressed its concern with this issue to the Russian government at the highest levels, and added he expected it to be a topic of high priority when U.S. Vice President Al Gore and Russian Prime Minister Evgeny Primakov meet for talks in March.

Another panelist, Robbie Sabel of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said his nation was particularly alarmed by what he said was Russia "practically flaunting" a proliferation relationship with Iran. Sabel said the recent visit to Iran by Evgeny Adamov, Russia's Minister of Atomic Affairs, and Iran's purchase of specialized metals from Russia was particularly disturbing.

Sabel explained: "There was no economic justification whatsoever for such purchases. (Iran's) only purpose is to build a nuclear infrastructure that in the future can be diverted to weapons construction."

Sabel said that there may be elements in Russia who believe there is an economic and political strategic advantage to be gained from such "deadly trade." He added that despite the acknowledged internal problems of the Russian government, proliferation could be prevented, if the political will in Russia existed. But Sabel added if Russia's political will remains lacking, there is still another answer.

He explained: "Iran and Russia have to believe that European, Western and other states see such proliferation as a very real threat to world security. And furthermore, that such states are willing to take the necessary steps to prevent such proliferation. Such steps need to involve elements of both impedance and inducement.... If Iran and Russia face firm united opposition to such proliferation, I believe these two states will conclude that such proliferation is not in their interest."

The third panelist was Viktor Mizin of Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Mizin, who said he was not speaking on behalf of the Russian government, explained there is a fundamental difference between how the West and Russia view Iran.

Mizin said Iran is the "most demonized country in American culture," whereas Russia sees Iran as simply a "regional power" or a "door to Eurasia."

Mizin said there are three categories of thinking among the Russia political elite in terms of proliferation efforts and Iran.

First, he says there are the "non-proliferation zealots" who sign every treaty and paper with the U.S. and Western nations. The second category of thinkers, he says, are proponents of proliferation, but who are more cautious than the first group. The third category, says Mizin, are the strong opponents of any kind of proliferation and who actively seek to undermine any of the efforts of the first two categories. Mizin said the major problem with proliferation efforts of any kind in Russia is that there is no solid political bloc within the Russian parliament that is able to effectively influence proliferation policy one way or the other. He adds that unlike with the U.S., the deployment of ballistic weapons doesn't present a threat to Russian troops stationed abroad. Therefore, he says, this matter does not overly concern Russian politicians.

Mizin explained: "That is why, while we hear all the time very politically correct words from Russian leaders and political scientists about their concerns that Iran is developing missile capability, no one in Russia's political elite is seriously concerned about the threat of this development."

Mizin said that to most of Russia's political elite, Iran remains an important trading partner for the Russian army. Present proliferation concerns by other nations are not a "rational basis for ending the arms exchange," he concludes.