Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 176

U.S. vice president Al Gore suggested yesterday that Russia and the U.S. had made some progress on issues related to arms control and export of technologies to Iran, but the two sides apparently clashed over a Russian draft law on religion. Gore’s comments followed a day of discussions with Russian prime minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and other officials. The talks, to last two days, took place at a government residence outside of Moscow under the auspices of the U.S.-Russia commission on economic and technological issues — the so-called Gore-Chernomyrdin commission.

Gore told reporters afterward that much of the discussion yesterday had been devoted to Russia’s relations with Iran, and that the two sides had "agreed to continue to share information and to work together closely to prevent the possibility of nuclear missile technology reaching Iran or any other rogue state." Yesterday’s talks come against a background of repeated accusations by Israel and the U.S. that Russian specialists — with or without the sanction of the Russian government — are involved in a project to develop an Iranian nuclear missile. Indeed, Israeli officials on September 21 elaborated on those earlier charges and announced that, with the help of Russian scientists, Iran is now in a position to produce within 18 months a missile capable of reaching Israel. (AP, September 21) Russia has vigorously denied the involvement of Russian specialists in any such project. Russian officials have also insisted both that Moscow itself is opposed to the appearance of nuclear missiles on its southern border and that its own intelligence services have effectively prevented any leakage of Russian technology.

Citing concerns about nuclear proliferation, the U.S. has also strongly opposed a deal under which Russia is completing a nuclear power station in the Iranian city of Bushehr. On September 21 Russia’s atomic energy minister proposed that Russia and the U.S. exercise joint oversight of the Bushehr plant in order to ease American concerns on that score, but Gore was visibly unenthusiastic about the idea in his remarks to reporters. "Joint monitoring is the least of our concerns," he was quoted as saying.

Gore suggested that he had received some glimmer of hope from yesterday’s talks that Russia’s parliament might finally ratify the START II strategic arms treaty, but he evidenced no such optimism with regard to a Russian draft law on religion. President Boris Yeltsin had vetoed an earlier version of the bill following complaints that it would curtail religious freedom in Russia, but observers say the revised version of the bill still discriminates against a number of religious groups. Gore indicated that he had emphasized to the Russian side Washington’s strong desire that the bill be rejected, but said that he had at no time heard "anything which would make me feel comfortable in saying to you… that [Yeltsin] will veto it." Gore is scheduled to meet with the Russian president today. (Reuter, AP, Russian agencies, September 22)

…And in New York.