Clinton administration officials indicated yesterday that the United States is prepared to expand the number of foreign satellite launches permitted Russia — in exchange for a crackdown by Russian authorities on leaks of missile technology to Iran. The Russian Space Agency is currently limited in the number of foreign launches it can undertake by a 1996 U.S.-Russian agreement. That document was aimed at propping up Russia’s ailing space sector while insulating U.S. companies from Russian competition. Satellite launches run from $60-$100 million. Any increase in the number of launches permitted Russia would bring Russia’s space establishment substantial — and much needed — revenues.
Yesterday’s developments came on the eve of this week’s meeting of the Gore-Chernomyrdin commission — co-chaired by the U.S. vice president and the Russian prime minister — scheduled for today and tomorrow. The comments reflect yet another effort by the Clinton administration to stop what the United States and Israel have charged is cooperation between Russian and Iranian experts aimed at advancing an Iranian ballistic missile development program. Under American pressure, Russia reportedly gave assurances in mid-January that it would take steps to crack down on any missile technology leaks to Iran. Those assurances were followed on January 22 with the announcement that Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin had ordered tighter controls on the export of Russian technologies that could be used in the manufacture of weapons of mass destruction.
Clinton administration officials concede, however, that the promulgation of such acts means little until Russian authorities take greater steps to implement them. Washington hopes that the offer of more satellite launches — to be realized only if Moscow takes concrete steps to end missile cooperation with Iran — may help do the trick. As an added inducement, Washington officials indicated yesterday that they will also alert Moscow to the danger that it faces American sanctions if its cooperation with Iran continues. The U.S. Congress has already approved legislation calling for sanctions on foreign companies helping Iran develop ballistic missiles. The Senate is to consider the legislation in April. (The New York Times, Reuter, AP, March 9)
To date, Moscow has in large part dismissed Washington charges that Russian experts are involved in developing Iranian missiles or that its dealings with Iran in general violate international norms. On the eve of his departure for the United States, Chernomyrdin repeated that denial. He also suggested that his main goal during the talks would be to reduce what he says are unfair trade restrictions on Russian exports to the United States. (Itar-Tass, Reuter, March 9)
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