- The Washington Times - Friday, February 25, 2000

The Senate Thursday unanimously passed legislation allowing sanctions on Russia and other countries that sell weapons of mass destruction to Iran.

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott said the unanimous support of the bill underscores the seriousness with which Congress views the rogue country's quest for long-range missiles.

"America's security and that of our friends and allies in the region will be unalterably affected by such a horrific development," said the Mississippi Republican.

It was passed by a 98-0 vote, with Sens. John McCain, Arizona Republican, and Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, both absent. The House unanimously passed similar legislation last September.

Supporters said the bill was necessary despite the ascendance of reformers in the Tehran government.

"Fresh breezes of change are blowing through Iran," said Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat. But he said those changes have not reached the highest levels of government "who unfortunately have made Iran a pariah state."

Mr. Lieberman said the bill was also a message to the administration that "relations with Russia are not more important than our national security."

The legislation requires the president to provide semiannual reports to Congress detailing weapons transactions from Russia, China or North Korea to Iran. It gives the president the option of eliminating economic aid or waiving sanctions based on national security concerns.

The bill also prohibits funding to the Russian space agency, which lawmakers say is diverting the funds intended for the International Space Station to Iran for weapons building.

"The United States is assisting the Russian aviation and space agency at a time when entities under its jurisdiction may, as a matter of fact, be involved in transferring this dangerous technology to Iran," Mr. Lott said.

"It is absurd, and the American people would rightly be horrified to find that is the case," he said.

President Clinton vetoed the bill in 1998, saying it would interfere with ongoing efforts with Russia to stop the proliferation through diplomatic measures.

However, Mr. Clinton is expected to sign this bill that some say is a watered-down version of the original bill that passed the House.

"Some might say this bill is not strong enough, and I would be hard-pressed to disagree with that," Mr. Lott said.

If the president finds that weapons continue to be sent to Iran and does not use the "option" of sanctions, Mr. Lott said the legislation may be revisited at a later date to make the sanctions a requirement.

However, he said the bill sends a strong message to the White House there is complete bipartisan support in Congress for tougher actions against countries who assist Iran militarily.

"It still makes an important statement to the world about the steadfast commitment of the Congress of the United States to do everything we can to diminish the threat of weapons of mass destruction carried by ballistic missiles," Mr. Lieberman said.

Republicans have been critical of Mr. Clinton's policy toward Russia, and held hearings last year that revealed Russian firms and government scientists were providing weapons and technology to Iran.

The legislation comes after Iran's parliamentary election last week in which hard-liners are losing control to reformists.

However, bill supporters said that does not diminish their concern about Iran's missile building.

"The focus of our concern about Iran is that it has been our most implacable foe in the recent past and that it has been the single most intransigent supporter of terrorism against this nation and our allies, a reality that remains unchanged," Mr. Lieberman said.

Clinton administration officials said earlier this week it was too soon to take steps toward improving relations with Tehran, and that they wanted to see a change in specific policy concerns.

Those policies "relate to Iran's attitude toward the Middle East peace process, the seeking of weapons of mass destruction and the support of terrorism," said State Department spokesman James P. Rubin.

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