- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 3, 2000

While Al Gore continues his campaign to reinvent the presidential election, he is ignoring problems in Russia that he, as the administration's point man there, helped make possible.

Last week, the Kremlin shrugged off U.S. threats to sanction Russia for its arms sales to Iran. In so doing, Moscow flouted long-standing U.S. concerns regarding arms proliferation, as well as a secret and controversial pact that Russia and the White House reached in 1995. Under that agreement, the White House promised Moscow it wouldn't sanction Russia for its arms and nuclear sales to Iran if they stopped by the end of 1999.

The White House failed to acknowledge this deal either to Congress or the American people until newspapers made its details public. In October, Bill Gertz, a reporter for The Washington Times, broke the news of the Kremlin-White House deal on Russia's nuclear sales to Iran while the New York Times disclosed the parallel agreement the two parties made on Russia's conventional arms exports to Iran.

To the surprise of no one outside the administration, Russia continued making arms exports to Iran after 1999. On Jan. 13, months before the deal was disclosed, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright sent a letter to Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, beseeching him to honor the 1995 agreement. In that letter, Mrs. Albright went so far as to say that without that pact, "Russia's conventional arms sales to Iran would have been subject to sanctions based on various provisions of our laws." To the embarrassment of the White House, the Kremlin has brushed off the administration's entreaties as little more than a nuisance.

The Russian exports to Iran are particularly worrisome because they could be used against the fledgling democracy movement in the Middle Eastern country and because Iran is listed by the State Department as a state sponsor of terrorism. Moreover, the deal failed in its express purpose to stop Russian arms exports to Iran after 1999. In summary, the agreement has undermined U.S. leadership, nonproliferation and democratization goals.

Interestingly, Mr. Gore's unwillingness to hold Russia to the deal has failed to win America many friends. According to a U.S. Information Agency opinion analysis report, Russian sentiment towards America has deteriorated significantly over the years. Last year, 54 percent of Russians said they had a favorable opinion of the United States, compared to 65 percent in 1994 and 70 percent in 1993 and 1992.

And while America falls out of favor, Russian determination to limit America's international role has intensified. These days the Kremlin is jockeying for a part in the Middle East peace process. It also seeks to forge a strategic partnership with the European Union. Under the circumstances, the United States may find it increasingly difficult to deal constructively with Moscow on the world stage.

Since Mr. Gore has been in charge of the administration's policy on Russia, he should do everything in his power to shore up U.S. prestige at this critical time. Whether he is elected president or not, this updated version of Irangate is now part of his legacy.

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