Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 9

The Clinton administration threatened yesterday to take further action against Russia for the Kremlin’s failure to halt the leakage of sensitive nuclear and missile technologies to Iran. This threat, which would see the curtailment or even elimination of Russian launches of American-made satellites, came a day after the administration leveled sanctions against three Russian institutions for allegedly abetting Iranian efforts to develop nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles (see the Monitor, January 13).

With tensions between the two countries already rubbed raw in the wake of last month’s U.S. and British air strikes on Iraq, Washington’s latest decision to level sanctions provoked a predictably furious response in Moscow. A Foreign Ministry statement denounced the U.S. move as a violation of U.S.-Russian agreements on nuclear nonproliferation: “For the Russian side it is absolutely unacceptable to use the language of sanctions and pressure.” The statement also claimed that U.S. charges of illicit cooperation between Russian institutes and Iran had been thoroughly investigated by Russian authorities and found to be groundless. Russia’s objections to the sanctions, the statement warned, would be raised during U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s visit to Moscow later this month. A host of other Russian officials responded in like fashion. Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov said that Moscow would study the U.S. charges, but nevertheless criticized the sanctions as “strong-arm methods” and “counterproductive for relations between Russia and the United States” (Reuters, AP, Russian agencies, January 13). Atomic Energy Minister Yevgeny Adamov, who has been a vigorous proponent of boosting Russian nuclear cooperation with Iran and other countries, said that Russia has strictly observed international standards of nuclear nonproliferation in its dealings with Iran. He also said that Russia is, in fact, much more concerned about nuclear nonproliferation than the United States because of Russia’s proximity to countries which have developed–or are on the verge of developing–nuclear weapons. He intimated that Washington’s motive in leveling the sanctions was primarily economic, aimed at halting lucrative nuclear cooperation between Russia and Iran (Itar-Tass, January 13).

Adamov was undoubtedly correct in surmising that Washington had acted at least in part in reaction to Russia’s apparently expanding nuclear cooperation with Iran. Among the three institutes Washington penalized on January 12 was the Scientific Research and Design Institute of Power Technology. Adamov at one time headed that institution. U.S. authorities are reportedly concerned about its announced plans to build a small research reactor in Iran capable of producing fissile materials, which could be used in nuclear weapons (Washington Post, January 13). Indeed, the Power Technology Institute and another of the three institutions penalized by Washington–the Mendeleev University of Chemical Technology–were accused by U.S. officials of making “material contributions to Iran’s nuclear weapons program.” The third institute facing sanctions, the Moscow Aviation Institute, was said to be helping Tehran’s missile program (Reuters, January 13).

Yesterday several Russian lawmakers also denounced the U.S. sanctions. Gennady Seleznev, communist speaker of the Russian Duma, accused the United States of continuously fabricating pretexts for confrontation with Russia. Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov called the sanctions “unacceptable and unlawful” (AP, Itar-Tass, January 13). Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev, meanwhile, joined representatives of the three penalized institutions in denying Washington’s charges. Sergeev said that the U.S. allegations were politically motivated. He also claimed that the three institutions in question lacked the resources to do what Washington had alleged (Reuters, Russian agencies, January 13).