Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 230

Russia and the United States butted heads yet again this weekend over Russian arms dealings with Iran, but there was little indication that the two sides had in any way resolved their differences. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott was at the head of a U.S. delegation which raised the issue in Moscow on December 10-11 in separate talks with Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, First Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Maslyukov, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and presidential chief of staff (and Security Council Secretary) Nikolai Bordyuzha. Talbott’s efforts were an immediate follow-up to admonitions leveled by Washington against Moscow which were delivered by U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in talks with Ivanov on December 9 in Brussels (see the Monitor, December 10).

According to U.S. officials, Talbott told Moscow that Russian authorities were not doing enough to stop the transfer of sensitive military technologies to Iran. He also repeated American charges that, in some cases at least, individual Russians might be responsible for assisting Iran in these areas without the knowledge or sanction of their government. As has been the case in the past, however, Russian leaders simply denied that any such transfers were taking place. They repeated that they had no interest in seeing weapons of mass destruction appear on Russia’s southern border. Maslyukov reportedly told Talbott that Russia would both tighten its control over the export of technology and equipment to Iran and would consider possible monitoring of Russian facilities accused of leaking technology. But he said that Washington would first have to substantiate with “concrete facts” the charges that Russians were engaged in such activities (AP, Reuters, Russian agencies, December 11).

The United States has repeatedly complained of Russian cooperation with Tehran in the area of nuclear power, but Moscow has ignored the criticism and stepped up its nuclear construction activities in Iran. Washington has also charged that various Russian defense concerns are leaking ballistic missile technology to Iran and, most recently, that impoverished Russian scientists are involved in Iranian efforts to develop biological weapons. That last charge was denied by the Iranian embassy in Moscow on December 11 (UPI, AP, December 11).

Moscow has made some efforts over the past year to improve its export control system. But it is unclear whether the agencies and regulations which have been put in place with that goal in mind are having any real impact on the problem.

Aside from conveying Washington’s concern over Russian-Iranian defense cooperation, the talks this past weekend afforded the U.S. delegation–which included Deputy Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers–a chance to learn first-hand about the policies likely to be pursued by Primakov’s new, more left-leaning government. For his part, the Russian Prime Minister emphasized that improving relations with Washington remained a top priority within the Russian government (Russian agencies, December 11). The Clinton administration has hardened its policy toward Russia in recent months as Moscow has appeared to backslide on economic reform.