- The Washington Times - Monday, October 30, 2000

The State Department and some lawmakers are waxing indignant about newspaper disclosures of a secret 1995 deal between Vice President Al Gore and then-Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin. After the newspaper reports were published, the State Department acknowledged this week that Mr. Gore assured Russia that the United States would not sanction the Kremlin for Russian arm sales to Iran, if they stopped by 1999. But rather than acknowledge the adverse impact this underhanded arrangement could have on national security, the State Department and legislators have lashed out at the newspapers that disclosed the Gore-Chernomyrdin arrangement.

"I hope this is not going to turn into something that is more political than substantive," said Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., a Democrat from Delaware. It is difficult to imagine, though, what could be more substantive than a secret pact that would help strengthen the military might of a country identified by the State Department as a sponsor of terrorism.

Clearly, Mr. Gore kept secret his agreement with Mr. Chernomyrdin to circumvent a U.S. law, passed in 1992, that requires the imposition of sanctions to countries that make "destabilizing" arms sales to either Iran or Iraq. Interestingly, Mr. Gore was the chief sponsor of that bill, called the Iran-Iraq Nonproliferation Act.

Mr. Gore's chief foreign policy adviser, Leon Fuerth, told the New York Times that the Russian sales to Iran didn't meet the 1992 law's definition of "advanced conventional weapons" and that Mr. Gore was simply brandishing the threat of sanctions as a ploy to try to get the Russians to discontinue arm sales to Iran by the end of 1999.

But Mr. Gore and Sen. John McCain, a Republican from Arizona and cosponsor of the 1992 law, specifically mentioned the threat posed by the Kilo-class submarine as a reason the 1992 nonproliferation act was needed, according to the Congressional Research Service. Russia sold precisely this submarine to Iran, which has long-range torpedoes that could target U.S. warships or oil tankers. But under the Gore-Chernomyrdin deal, the vice president agreed the White House wouldn't sanction Russia for the submarine sale. "If the administration has acquiesced in the sale, then I believe they have violated both the intent and the letter of the law," said Mr. McCain.

Congress has for years asked the administration why the White House wasn't sanctioning Russia for the submarine sale. Now it's clear why it hasn't. Unsurprisingly, the Kremlin has totally disregarded the unenforceable pact it struck with Mr. Gore and has continued making arm sales to Iran after the end of 1999.

And the administration has yet even to deal with the agreement Mr. Gore made with Mr. Chernomyrdin to keep secret Russia's nuclear sales to Iran. Bill Gertz, a reporter with The Washington Times, first revealed this aspect of the Gore-Chernomyrdin pact earlier this month.

In the ongoing campaign for the presidency, Mr. Gore has tried to claim superiority on foreign policy matters. But his willingness to defy a law which he himself championed reveals a lack of commitment to his own stated principles. And that is worthy of indignation.

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