The creation of the new exports commission follows repeated complaints from the U.S. that Russia — with or without official government sanction — is aiding Iran in its effort to develop ballistic missiles. Clinton Administration officials have suggested in recent months that pressure exerted by Washington has finally convinced Russian authorities that a halt to such technology leaks are also in Moscow’s best interests. The new commission may substantiate the Administration’s claims on this subject. Yet, as Gore himself conceded, the commission’s activities and the impact of newly enacted Russian export controls — also put in place following pressure from Washington — will make little difference unless Moscow moves beyond words and takes concrete steps to stop technology transfers to Iran. The record is not encouraging in this regard. Russian leaders have repeatedly denied any complicity in Iran’s missile development program, and have said that the country’s special services already have the situation under control.
Moreover, even as Moscow appeared to take a step toward Washington with regard to the missile issue, Russian authorities reiterated their intention to follow through on another cooperation project with Tehran that is also strongly opposed by the U.S.: Russia’s construction of a nuclear power plant at the Bushehr site in Iran. In recent weeks, various Russian ministers have indicated that Moscow’s role in that $800 million project is likely to be expanded as Russian concerns take on some smaller construction tasks that were originally to have been handled by Iran itself, and by Ukraine. Russia has also announced that it may build an additional two reactors for the facility.
There were other hints of dissonance — actual or potential — during Chernomyrdin’s talks in Washington. There was little mention, for example, of Iraq or of NATO enlargement, two issues on which Moscow and Washington have been at odds. In addition, the U.S. State Department reported on March 10 that Russian authorities had blocked U.S. efforts to determine whether American-made supercomputers were illegally diverted last year to Russia’s nuclear weapons program. That case has been under investigation by the U.S. Commerce Department and Customs Service since last fall. Finally, it remains to be seen whether Chernomyrdin’s pledge to push for START II ratification will have any real consequences. Although Russia’s Defense Ministry has also lined up behind the treaty, opposition to the agreement remains strong in the Russian Duma. Lawmakers there accuse the Kremlin of providing insufficient information about the treaty. More to the point, they have linked their opposition to the treaty to NATO’s planned enlargement and, more recently, to the possibility of U.S. military actions in Iraq. Notes: