Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 54

Moscow reacted with predictable unhappiness yesterday following Tuesday’s signing by U.S. President Bill Clinton of a bill, the Iran Nonproliferation Act, which would empower him to sanction Russia and Russian companies for improper leaks of military technology to Iran. A Russian Foreign Ministry statement called the new legislation “unacceptable” and “discriminatory,” and warned that it could “significantly undermine U.S.-Russian arms reduction efforts. It also said that the bill “represented yet another attempt to give internal U.S. legislation an extraterritorial nature, which goes completely against international law.” Russia has been joined by some key Western allies in criticizing other U.S. legislation which attempts to penalize third countries for doing business with governments sanctioned by Washington.

Moscow’s displeasure was also expressed yesterday during talks in the Russia capital between Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov and Leon Fuerth, U.S. Vice President Al Gore’s security advisor. Klebanov, who has responsibilities in overseeing Russia’s defense industrial complex, complained that the new law gives the U.S. president carte blanche to designate any country as a violator. He also denied that Russia is dealing sensitive military technologies to Iran. “Everything we supply to Iran has been agreed upon within the framework of a protocol signed by Russia and the United States,” he said. He also noted that the United States had yet to produce any proof that Russia was violating this agreement (Itar-Tass, March 13).

Western intelligence sources have suggested that much of the leakage of Russian military technologies to Iran may be occurring through lower-level Russian-Iranian contacts, possibly without the direct knowledge of the government. The issue has been a constant source of friction between Russia and the United States in recent years. U.S. officials (and their Israeli counterparts) have expressed some satisfaction with the legal and regulatory mechanisms which the Russian government has put in place to increase control over military exports. But they have complained of Moscow’s failure to employ those mechanisms effectively and energetically in order to halt the leakage of technology to Iran.

Despite yesterday’s criticism, the initial response, at least from Moscow, to the Iran Nonproliferation Bill was relatively muted. That may be because Moscow had already aired in full its opposition to the bill several weeks ago, when the legislation was approved–unanimously–first by the U.S. Senate and then by the House of Representatives. Clinton had opposed an earlier version of the bill, but had signaled his willingness to sign this one because it makes the leveling of sanctions a discretionary matter for the president. The earlier version had mandated the automatic triggering of sanctions in the event that organizations from Russia were determined to be improperly leaking military technologies to Iran (see the Monitor, March 3).

The Iran Sanctions Bill is aimed at curbing the flow of technologies to Iran which might help Iran to develop weapons of mass destruction. The bill requires the president to report to Congress twice a year on organizations that are believed to be dealing improperly with Iran. A key provision touches on Russian-U.S. cooperation in the building of the International Space Station. It bars “extraordinary payments” to the Russian Space Agency if Russia is deemed to be in violation of the sanctions bill. The Clinton administration has proposed paying to Russia some US$650 million beyond the amount originally pledged for Russia’s part in the space station project.

Indeed, Moscow’s relative equanimity yesterday may have been related to the fact that Clinton said at the signing of the bill that the new legislation would not affect plans for the international space project. “I want to make it clear,” he said, “that Russia continues to be a valued partner in the international space station” (UPI, AP, March 14; Washington Post, March 16).