Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 136

In a move which has already generated some criticism in Congress, the Clinton administration has reportedly agreed to grant Russia an increase in the number of U.S. commercial satellite launches from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Administration officials said this week that the number of satellite launches on Russian rockets will be raised from sixteen to twenty. The additional launches could bring the ailing Russian space program an additional US$200-$400 million in revenues. U.S. aerospace companies, who have pushed hard for the increase in launches, will still need federal approval for any satellites sent aloft by Russia.

The administration’s move is reported to be a reward for what it says are new steps taken recently by the Russian government to stop transfers of illegal nuclear and missile technologies to Iran. If Moscow continues to make progress on the controversial nonproliferation issue, administration officials say, the United States will consider raising the number of launches granted to Russia still higher next year. The issue will reportedly be on the agenda when Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin meets with U.S. Vice President Al Gore in Washington later this month (Wall Street Journal, Itar-Tass, July 14).

Transfers of Russian nuclear and missile technologies to Iran have been a nearly constant irritant in Russian-U.S. relations for several years now. The Clinton administration had earlier claimed some success in getting Moscow to tighten up its control of technology exports. But U.S. officials charged earlier this year that Moscow had begun to backslide in its export control efforts. Although Washington never made the charge explicit, the Clinton administration appeared to believe that the Russian effort had tailed off during the period in which Yevgeny Primakov had served as prime minister. Primakov is an Arabist with long-standing ties to the Soviet and Russian intelligence communities. As foreign minister and then as prime minister he tried to resuscitate ties between Moscow and its Soviet-era clients in the Middle East and Persian Gulf. In January the U.S. leveled sanctions against three Russian organizations accused of abetting Iran’s efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction (see the Monitor, January 13).

But the Clinton administration appears to be placing greater credence in a series of new steps taken recently by the Kremlin and the government of Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin to stop technology flows to Iran. On July 12 the Kremlin reportedly finished drafting a decree which would strengthen regulation of the arms export industry. According to Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebnov–recently named to oversee the activities of the country’s defense industrial sector–Russia’s three state-run arms trading companies will now have to provide the government with greater information about arms sales. The three companies are Rosvooruzhenie, Promeksport and Russian Technologies. Russian lawmakers have also recently passed a law aimed at strengthening export controls (AP, Russian agencies, July 12; Wall Street Journal, July 14).

In a related development, a top NASA official urged lawmakers on July 13 not to tie aid for Russia’s efforts on the International Space Station to certification that Moscow is not transferring technology to Iran. The spokesman was referring to a House bill that would deny aid to the Russian Space Agency if the Clinton administration says that Moscow is still helping Iran acquire weapons of mass destruction. The spokesman argued that the agencies and organizations under the Russian Space Agency which are involved in the International Space Station project are not aiding Iranian efforts to develop missiles or other such weapons. He also argued that sanctions against the Russian Space Agency now would reinforce anti-U.S. sentiment in Russia while hurting U.S. credibility with other partners in the project. Other witnesses before the House panel disagreed, however, arguing that Russian aerospace entities were indeed helping Iran design ballistic missiles and should be penalized.