Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 45

The Russian government, not surprisingly, continued its criticism yesterday of U.S. legislation which would penalize Russia and Russian companies if they are judged to be aiding Iranian efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction. In remarks made following talks with EU officials in Lisbon, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov complained that the U.S. law–which must still be approved by President Bill Clinton–would complicate trade and economic relations between Russia and the United States. Ivanov claimed that European officials were also disturbed by passage of the U.S. legislation, and said that he would take up the issue with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright during talks between the two that are scheduled today in the Portuguese capital (Itar-Tass, March 2). Ivanov’s remarks came in the aftermath of the unanimous March 1 vote by the U.S. House of Representatives to approve the legislation. The Senate had approved the bill–also unanimously–on February 24.

Ivanov’s criticism in Lisbon yesterday echoed complaints which the Russian Foreign Ministry made public last week, following Senate approval of the sanctions bill. The ministry accused the United States of “artificially aggravating” relations with Russia and of improperly trying to apply U.S. domestic laws to third countries as a way of enforcing American sanctions against Iran. That last condition has also been made by some of Washington’s key Western allies. The Russian Foreign Ministry called the U.S. legislation part of a “pseudo-imperial” approach to foreign relations, and warned that it is unacceptable both to Russia and to “the whole of civilized society.” In addition, the Foreign Ministry charged that the legislation would actually have the opposite of its intended effect in that it would undermine international efforts aimed at export control and the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons. Its implementation would also, the ministry said, “complicate Russian-American ties and international relations as a whole” (AP, Russian agencies, February 25).

The draft bill approved over the past week by the Senate and House is in fact a slightly weakened version of legislation approved by the House last September, but which the Clinton administration made clear it would veto. The current bill gives the administration the discretionary authority to impose sanctions on any country that supplies nuclear, biological or chemical equipment or technology to Tehran. The bill requires the administration to submit reports to Congress every six months identifying those countries which assist Iran in developing missiles or weapons systems. Clinton would then have the option of employing any of a range of punitive measures against the country in question, including sanctions or the suspension of economic or military assistance. The bill would also make millions of dollars in U.S. financial aid to the Russian Space Agency contingent on the same certification that Moscow is not aiding Iran’s weapons developments programs. The fact that the new bill does not call for the trigger of mandatory sanctions against countries accused of helping Iraq, but leaves the use of punitive measures at the discretion of the president, makes it likely that Clinton will approve it (Reuters, AP, February 24; Washington Post, February 25; AP, March 2).

Acrimony over the leakage of Russian nuclear and missile technologies to Iran has been a nearly continuous source of friction between Moscow and Washington. U.S (and Israeli) efforts to push the Russian government to exert greater control over sensitive exports of this sort have met with repeated assurances by Russian leaders that there is in fact no improper leakage of Russian technologies to Iran. Moscow has also passed legislation and set up an impressive enough sounding administrative structure for overseeing sensitive technology exports. U.S. and Israeli intelligence sources continue to report Iranian-Russian cooperation in this area, however. Under pressure from Congressional Republicans, the Clinton administration has continued to demand that Moscow move beyond declarations and begin to take concrete steps to cut the flow of military technologies to Iran. The issue was reportedly raised once again during the recent visit to Washington by Russian Security Council Secretary Sergei Ivanov, and will apparently be on the agenda of today’s Ivanov-Albright talks. Whether Putin will move with greater purpose in this area than did his predecessor remains to be seen.