- The Washington Times - Friday, October 20, 2000

Senate leaders yesterday accused the White House of withholding documents and announced hearings next week to explore back-channel deals between Vice President Al Gore and Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin on Moscow's arms deals with Iran.
"We are troubled by the unwillingness of the administration to be more forthcoming on this issue," Sen. Gordon H. Smith said at a press conference.
"Clearly, this is a case where there was controlling legal authority," Mr. Smith, Oregon Republican and chairman of the Foreign Relations subcommittee on European affairs, said in a reference to the vice president's 1997 defense that there was "no controlling legal authority" governing his White House fund-raising calls.
Mr. Smith said the administration has refused for a week to provide a copy of the classified 1995 "aide-memoire" signed by Mr. Gore and Mr. Chernomyrdin that stated the United States would not impose penalties on Moscow required under "domestic law."
Mr. Smith and Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican, showed reporters a poster-size reprint of a portion of the aide-memoire that was published in Tuesday's editions of The Washington Times.
Mr. Brownback, chairman of the Near East subcommittee, said the aide-memoire reveals an explicit agreement to ignore several U.S. laws governing the U.S. response to arms sales to terrorist nations, including Iran.
"Without an explicit act of Congress, the vice president did not have the power or authority to commit the United States to ignore U.S. law," Mr. Brownback said. "He doesn't have that authority or power to do that."
The senators said they will hold a hearing Tuesday on the issue and plan to issue subpoenas for documents if the administration refuses to produce them.
White House spokesman Jake Siewert said the senators' implication that the agreement is secret was not true. He said a fact sheet was issued and members of the House International Relations Committee were briefed on the accord.
Gore spokesman Jim Kennedy said the senators were playing politics.
"Using the Middle East crisis as an excuse to hold a partisan hearing so close to the election is an outrageous abuse of power and a dangerous mix of politics and national security," Mr. Kennedy said. "The fact that all of this was announced five years ago, reported on five years ago and briefed to Congress five years ago illustrates how transparently political this hearing really is."
Mr. Smith dismissed White House claims that the matter was "political."
"It ought to be of grave concern to every American citizen," he said. "We are bringing young men and women home in body bags right now. We should not be aiding and abetting those who would do us harm. That may have happened here."
Mr. Brownback said statements by the White House and Mr. Gore's office defending the policy of not sanctioning Russia was contradicted by a letter sent to Russia in January by Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright.
The letter to Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, first disclosed by The Times on Tuesday, states that the United States would have imposed sanctions on Russia for its arms sale if there had been no 1995 agreement.
"Secretary Albright's letter is an admission that this administration willfully concluded a secret agreement with Russia to ignore U.S. statutes," Mr. Brownback said.
Congress was not informed about Mrs. Albright's letter. "We learned about it in The Washington Times," Mr. Brownback said.
"This withholding of information from Congress may itself be a violation of law," Mr. Brownback said, citing a law requiring notification of international agreements. "This law clearly has been broken."
Arms sent to Iran from Russia since the early 1990s include advanced Kilo-class submarines, torpedoes, anti-ship mines, and hundreds of tanks and armored personnel carriers.
In addition to the secret deal on arms to Iran, the senators also said they plan to investigate a 1995 letter from Mr. Chernomyrdin to Mr. Gore that disclosed Moscow's plan to build a nuclear reactor in Iran. The letter said Mr. Gore should keep the arrangement secret from Congress.
"We do not yet know what the vice president's response was to this letter," Mr. Brownback said. "We do know what the vice president did: No mention of this nuclear dialogue with Russia was ever made to Congress, despite the fact that the Nuclear Nonproliferation Act requires full and immediate disclosure to Congress of such diplomatic discussion."
Mr. Smith said investigators so far have determined that there is no evidence that any Senate committees were told the details of the Russian reactor project in Iran. "That's a violation of law," Mr. Smith said.
"The time has come for Vice President Gore to come clean with the American people," Mr. Brownback said. "The administration must immediately provide the [Senate Foreign Relations] Committee with all relevant documents."
Meanwhile, Rep. Benjamin A. Gilman, chairman of the House International Relations Committee, said he was dismayed by the report that Mr. Gore was asked by Mr. Chernomyrdin not to inform Congress about the nuclear deal with Iran.
"I do not expect the vice president to be responsible for something a Russian official may have written, but the American people have a right to expect their vice president to clarify that their elected representatives in Congress are not a 'third party' to be kept in the dark," said Mr. Gilman, New York Republican. "In this matter, the Constitution itself is the 'controlling legal authority.' "
A failure to notify Congress of the deal would be "a disturbingly casual disregard" for Congress' role in government, Mr. Gilman said.

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