- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 21, 2000

Visualize the vice president of the United States striking a deal with the Kremlin to keep secret a Russian plan to sell nuclear technology to one of the globe's pariah states. Imagine that as a twist, this scheme is in direct defiance of a U.S. law which this same vice president had cosponsored some years ago as a senator. This scheme isn't fictional Cold War intrigue. That vice president is Al Gore and this alarming scandal has been substantiated by two newspapers.

The New York Times reported last week that in 1995, Mr. Gore agreed with Viktor S. Chernomyrdin, then the Kremlin's prime minister, to keep secret Russia's plan to export to Iran a diesel submarine, torpedoes, anti-ship mines and hundreds of tanks and armored personnel carriers. In exchange, Russia had promised to stop these arms exports by the end of 1999.

But Mr. Chernomyrdin and other Russian officials knew full well that since this pact was intentionally kept secret from Congress and the American people, the White House had no means of enforcing it. In fact, 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.

On Tuesday, Bill Gertz of The Washington Times disclosed the contents of the "aide memoir," which outlined the pact between Mr. Gore and Mr. Chernomyrdin. In addition, Mr. Gertz reported that a letter obtained by The Times reveals an even more alarming aspect of the Gore-Chernomyrdin deal. In a letter labeled "secret," Mr. Chernomyrdin told Mr. Gore that Moscow had a confidential nuclear deal with Iran that was "not to be conveyed to third parties, including the U.S. Congress." And accompanying the letter was a classified analysis clearly stating that Russian assistance "if not terminated, can only lead to Iran's acquisition of a nuclear weapons capability." The document added: "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 Gore-Chernomyrdin pact is all the more amazing considering that while Mr. Gore was a senator from Tennessee, he was a principal sponsor of the 1992 Iran-Iraq Arms Nonproliferation Act, which requires the imposition of sanctions for "destabilizing" arms sales to either country. Indisputably, the arms sales to Iran were "destabilizing," as the classified analysis accompanying the letter states.

Unrest in the Middle East highlights the folly of Mr. Gore's secret pact with the Kremlin. Surely, America's allies in the Middle East, such as Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar are very uncomfortable with Iran's nuclear acquisitions and feel betrayed by Mr. Gore's deal with the Russians. This is profoundly unfortunate, since the cooperation of these nations is vital to a long-term peace in the region.

The ramifications of Russia's exports to Iran will be felt for some time to come. At least we know who bears the responsibility.

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