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Russia: White House Hopes Anti-Russia Bill Will Vanish

Washington, 11 November 1997 (RFE/RL) -- The White House hopes the desire of the U.S. Congress to finish its legislative business and adjourn for the year will postpone action on a measure that could impose sanctions on Russia for helping Iran develop missiles.

The measure, the Iran Missile Proliferation Sanctions Act, was introduced last month by Congressman Benjamin Gilman (R-New York), the chairman of the House International Relations Committee.

The text of the legislation does not single out Russia. It says only that the measure is intended to impose economic sanctions on "foreign persons who transfer items contributing to Iran's efforts to acquire, develop, or produce ballistic missiles."

However, in a statement introducing the measure, Gilman said: "It is clear that Russia has already provided Iran with critical know-how and technological support. The question facing us now is whether we can halt any further assistance."

Gilman's proposal would require the president of the U.S. to give Congress a list of organizations -- both private and state-funded -- which transferred hardware or technology to Iran after August 1995, when Russia signed onto the International Missile Control Technology Regime. That is an international agreement that seeks to prevent the spread of missiles that could be used as weapons.

The organizations named would be subject to sanctions lasting two years and that would include a ban on some types of export licenses and a ban on any assistance from the U.S. The legislation would also give the president the authority to waive sanctions if he can show Congress that a waiver would be in the national interest.

Gilman contends that "there is more than credible information that Russian organizations have been allowed to assist Iran in this area in violation of Russia's international obligations."

The Congressman contends that, "there is absolutely no confidence in the Congress that the Administration has made it clear to the Russians that halting missile cooperation with Iran is vital to our interests.

Gilman said further assistance for Iran will put U.S. assistance to Russia, particularly in the area of space cooperation, at risk.

His measure has strong support in the House, including the endorsement of Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R-Georgia). The bill was introduced on October 23rd and moved quickly through parliamentary preliminaries. It was ready to go to the floor of the House for debate one week ago, but was never taken up, and Gilman's office concedes that the proposal may fall by the wayside as Congress rushes to adjourn.

A spokesman for the International Relations Committee (Jerry Lipson), told RFE/RL on Monday that prospects for action on the measure before adjournment are uncertain. He said the measure has not been scheduled for debate on Wednesday (tomorrow) when the House returns from a short break for the Veterans Day national holiday.

The chances of the House voting on the measure this week are slim. The House must still take action on two pieces of legislation that would complete work on the budget for the federal government for the financial year that began October First. The Congress has been funding government operations through a series of emergency measures called continuing resolutions.

Once legislators have dispensed with the more pressing issue of the federal budget, they are expected to adjourn and return to their voting districts.

The current session of Congress -- the 105th -- has one more year of its two year session to run. Gilman's spokesman says there is a strong possibility that the congressman will introduce his proposal again when Congress re-convenes in late January.

The White House said on Monday that it agrees "in theory" with the Gilman proposal and supports the main goal of the measure -- denying Iran missile technology. However, a press office spokesman (unnamed) says the Administration is concerned that the bill could interfere with progress in the U.S.-Russia relationship in other areas.

Both the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate have adopted resolutions expressing concerns about Iran's acquisition of Russian missile technology, and urging the president to take strong action to prevent future trades.

However, both of these measures are what are called "sense of the Congress" resolutions, which are declarations of principle or expressions of opinion, and they do not have the force of law.