- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 17, 2000

Vice President Al Gore, at the urging of Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, agreed to keep secret from Congress details of Russia's nuclear cooperation with Iran beginning in late 1995.
In a classified "Dear Al" letter obtained by The Washington Times, Mr. Chernomyrdin told Mr. Gore about Moscow's confidential nuclear deal with Iran and stated that it was "not to be conveyed to third parties, including the U.S. Congress."
But sources on Capitol Hill said Mr. Gore withheld the information from key senators who normally would be told of such high-level security matters.
The Gore-Chernomyrdin deal, disclosed in a letter labeled "secret," appears to violate a provision of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Act, which requires the Clinton administration to keep congressional oversight committees fully informed of all issues related to nuclear weapons proliferation.
The Chernomyrdin letter on nuclear cooperation with Iran follows a report in the New York Times last week showing that Mr. Gore reached a secret deal with Russia several months earlier that appears to circumvent U.S. laws requiring the imposition of sanctions on Russia for its conventional arms sales to Iran.
That arrangement also was kept secret from Congress, raising concerns among some lawmakers that the administration may be hiding other secret deals.
Gore spokesman Jim Kennedy said: "It's obvious that the motivation for this leak is political."
The letter "simply appears to be part of the overall United States effort to encourage the Russians to break off or limit their nuclear relationship with Iran," Mr. Kennedy said in a statement last night.
The Dec. 9, 1995, letter on Iranian nuclear cooperation states that the two leaders' discussions as part of a special commission had resulted in "clarity and mutual understanding" on the matter.
The letter said there were "no new trends" in Moscow's sale of nuclear equipment to Iran since a 1992 agreement. It also states that Russia and the United States would seek to prevent the "undermining of the nuclear arms non-proliferation program."
Mr. Chernomyrdin said Moscow's program of building a nuclear reactor in Iran would be limited to training technicians in Russia, and the delivery of "nuclear fuel for the power plant for the years 2001 through 2011."
"The information that we are passing on to you is not to be conveyed to third parties, including the U.S. Congress," Mr. Chernomyrdin said. "Open information concerning our cooperation with Iran is obviously a different matter, and we do no[t] object to the constructive use of such information. I am counting on your understanding."
A classified analysis acompanying the letter stated that Russian assistance "if not terminated, can only lead to Iran's acquisition of a nuclear weapons capability."
"Such a development would be destabilizing not only for the already volatile Middle East, but would pose a threat to Russian and Western security interests," the analysis stated.
Russian promises to limit cooperation with Iran's nuclear program have been undermined by numerous U.S. intelligence reports showing Moscow is providing nuclear-weapons-related equipment to Tehran outside the scope of its declared limits, according to U.S. officials.
A senior State Department official, Robert Einhorn, told a Senate subcommittee hearing earlier this month that Russian nuclear assistance is a "persistent problem" and that Russian companies linked to the government are providing Iran with "laser isotope separation technology" used to enrich uranium for weapons.
Asked about the letter, congressional aides close to the issue said they knew nothing about the details that the Russian leader gave Mr. Gore. "All this nuclear cooperation is sanctionable," said a senior congressional aide.
The secret Gore-Chernomyrdin dealings have become an issue in the presidential election campaign.
Texas Gov. George W. Bush stated during a campaign stop in Michigan last week that the reported deal on Russian arms transfers to Iran was "a troubling piece of information." He demanded an explanation from the vice president.
An earlier Gore-Chernomyrdin agreement, also obtained by The Washington Times, reveals that the United States would not impose sanctions on Russia required under U.S. law in exchange for Moscow's promise to end arms sales to Iran.
That agreement, called an "aide memoire" and signed by Mr. Gore and Mr. Chernomyrdin on June 30, 1995, required Russia to halt all arms sales to Iran by Dec. 31, 1999.
In exchange, the United States promised "to take appropriate steps to avoid any penalties to Russia that might otherwise arise under domestic law …," says the agreement, labeled "secret."
The aide memoire also states that the United States would "pursue steps that would lead to the removal of Russia from the proscribed list of International Traffic in Arms Regulations of the United States" which limits U.S. arms and defense-related technology sales.
A third classified letter, from Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, indicates that Russia is not living up to its promise to halt conventional arms deliveries to the Iranians.
Mrs. Albright stated in a Jan. 13 letter to Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, also labeled "secret," that "Russia's unilateral decision to continue delivering arms to Iran beyond the Dec. 31 deadline will unnecessarily complicate our relationship."
"I urge that Russia refrain from any further deliveries of those arms covered by the aide memoire; provide specific information on what has been delivered, what remains to be shipped and anticipated timing; and refrain from concluding any additional arms contracts with Iran," Mrs. Albright stated.
She added that the United States had lived up to its commitment in the 1995 Gore-Chernomyrdin aide memoire, including removing Russia from the list of nations limited by munitions-export controls.
In the "Dear Igor" letter, Mrs. Albright stated that "without the aide memoire, Russia's conventional arms sales to Iran would have been subject to sanctions based on various provisions of our laws."
The 1992 Iran-Iraq Nonproliferation Act requires the imposition of sanctions for "destabilizing" arms sales to either country. A 1996 amendment to the 1962 Foreign Assistance Act also requires sanctions on nations that provide lethal military assistance to a nation designated as a state sponsor of terrorism. Iran is on the State Department's terrorism sponsor list.
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms, North Carolina Republican, wrote to President Clinton on Friday asking about the 1995 aide memoire.
"Please assure us … the vice president did not, in effect, sign a pledge with Victor Chernomyrdin in 1995 that committed your administration to break U.S. law by dodging sanctions requirements," they stated.
Senate aides said the administration failed to notify the Senate about the specific arrangements to cover up for Russian arms sales.
National Security Adviser Samuel R. Berger said on Sunday, contrary to Mrs. Albright's classified letter, that U.S. sanctions did not apply to Russia.

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