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Iran: U.S. To Continue Trade Ban Pending Review

The United States has renewed prohibition on American trade and investment with Iran pending a review of the policy. The ban was scheduled to expire Thursday (15 March). Our correspondent, Frank T. Csongos, reports from Washington.

Washington, 14 March 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The White House says U.S. President George W. Bush has renewed a ban on American trade and investment with Iran, pending an overall review of the policy.

The measures were imposed by former President Bill Clinton in 1995 and were set to expire on 15 March.

In announcing the move on 13 March, National Security Council spokeswoman Mary Ellen Countryman said in a statement Bush retains the right to modify or end the sanctions following the review.

Former U.S. State Department official Robert Pelletreau, an expert on Iran, told RFE/RL that the Bush administration is still in the process of formulating its policy toward Tehran and that it's not clear what would happen next.

"It's too early in the new administration to expect that there could be a major change."

Pelletreau noted that Bush was required to act by this week's deadline under a mandate by the U.S. Congress.

" I would not place a lot of weight on the fact that this (renewal of the ban) has happened just now."

The United States eased some sanctions a year ago to allow imports of goods such as Iranian caviar, nuts, and carpets. The Clinton administration had hoped that a dialogue would follow and result in improved relations between the two countries.

The U.S. accuses Iran of sponsoring terrorism, seeking to sabotage Arab-Israeli peace efforts, and committing human rights abuses. Washington is also concerned that Iran is acquiring sophisticated weapons from Russia.

The concern was heightened when Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed during the weekend to resume sales of conventional weapons to Iran after a hiatus of more than five years.

Putin met in the Kremlin with Iranian President Mohammad Khatami and said Russia is interested in cooperating with Iran. Putin added that Iran should be able to protect its national security interests.

Russian officials said the scope of the arms accord was a private matter between the two countries. However, news agencies reported that the two sides indicated that the deal would be worth between $300 million and $400 million a year.

Putin also reiterated Russia's intention to help Iran complete a nuclear power plant. There are fears Tehran could use the plant to further its nuclear weapons program.

Russia sold weapons to Iran from 1989 to 1995 worth about $5 billion. The sales were halted after 1995 when then Russian President Boris Yeltsin agreed with Washington to abandon further military sales to Iran. The Kremlin abrogated the accord last year.

The State Department said on 13 March that Bush administration officials plan to ask a top Russian government official for details of Moscow's arms deals with Iran.

Spokesman Richard Boucher said the arms accords would be raised during a visit to Washington by Sergei Ivanov, the security adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Ivanov is scheduled to meet later today (14 March) with White House National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Boucher said the talks are expected to cover the range of U.S.-Russian relations, including new Russian arms deals with Iran. He reiterated U.S. concern over any transfers to Iran of sensitive military technology.

"I think we've been quite clear that our concerns are with sales of advanced conventional weaponry or sensitive technologies, assistance to programs like the nuclear area, where Iran, obviously, has nuclear ambitions, and we don't think that cooperation with Iran in that sphere is well-advised. "

Boucher said sophisticated weapons could make the entire region less stable.

"Any sales of advanced conventional weapons or sensitive technologies which we think are not only a problem, a security threat to the United States and other countries that have interests in the region, including countries of the Persian Gulf, but also and ultimately could harm Russia's interests as well."

Boucher left open the possibility of placing sanctions on Russian arms manufacturers if they are found to be in violation of U.S. law that mandates such action against entities providing sophisticated weapons or technologies to Iran. He said the U.S. will follow the law.