- The Washington Times - Friday, June 8, 2001

As Presidents Bush and Putin plan their summit in Ljubljana, Slovenia, on June 16, Russias sales of ballistic missile technology and nuclear systems to Iran must be urgently addressed by the two presidents. Otherwise, the tentative improvement in the U.S.-Russian relations, based on Washingtons overtures to Moscow over cooperation in missile defense, may be derailed.

Iranian President Mohammed Khatami´s visit to Moscow on March 12-15, 2001, turned Mr. Putin´s Russia into a Toys-R´-Us for the ayatollahs´ military. Iran already is the third largest importer of Russian arms after China and India. Russia will supply Iran enough weaponry to destabilize the Middle East, which may mean higher oil prices and higher gasoline bills at the pump for an American consumer.

Russian-Iranian military ties that increases Tehran´s weapons of mass destruction capabilities will make this sponsor of terrorism more of a threat to vital U.S. interests in the Persian Gulf as well as to the security of America´s allies in the Middle East. Moreover, by gaining nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and other advanced weapons systems from Russia, Iran could one day threaten the United States directly.

The administration must develop a comprehensive strategy that relies on proactive diplomacy, creative economic countermeasures, and innovative military responses to address this growing threat from Iran. It should maintain a strong U.S. military presence in the Persian Gulf, particularly by the U.S. Navy, to deter and defend against military threats from Iran. As long as the United States stands by its allies, the chances of attack from Iran are low.

The United States should also accelerate the deployment of sea-based missile defense systems on U.S. ships in the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf. Washington should cooperate with Israel and Turkey in the Mediterranean region and the states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to deploy a sea-based anti-ballistic missile systems on U.S. ships. Once deployed, such a system would blunt the emerging threat of Iranian missile attack.

The United States should also strengthen its military ties with the Gulf Cooperation Council to help it become a more effective military alliance. Bolstering the GCC would lessen Iran´s ability to intimidate its weaker neighbors and would enhance efforts to contain both Iran and Iraq.

Furthermore, the administration must ensure that U.S. enterprises and credits do not contribute in any way to Iran´s buildup of missiles or weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs. The United States should expand sanctions against Russian companies and institutions that help Iran build missiles or that transfer weapons technology. They should be forced to choose between trading with America or aiding Iran.

Under U.S. law, the president can withhold U.S. aid to any country that provides assistance to a government that the State Department deems a terrorist state. Iran has been on the U.S. terrorism list since 1984, and the State Department lists it as the most active state sponsor of international terrorism in its April 2000 "Patterns of Global Terrorism" report.

The administration should prevent U.S. investors from subsidizing Russian projects that could generate revenue for Iran, which Tehran could use to obtain advanced military technology. Russian companies investing in Iran should not be allowed to raise capital in U.S. financial markets.

In particular, Russian companies, such as the natural gas monopoly Gazprom, should not be allowed to raise funds from U.S. investors benefiting their energy schemes in Iran, since they could fund its military buildup and ultimately could be used to threaten U.S. interests in the region.

The intelligence community should be tasked with a comprehensive assessment of the ongoing technology transfer and weapons programs, and with providing recommendations identifying "choking points" that are vulnerable to sanctions.

The current WMD working group at the National Security Council should be requested to develop a sanctions strategy that targets Russian and Iranian officials, businesses, and individuals involved in the proliferation of WMD technologies, material, or know-how, as well as their sources of financing. This strategy could include restrictions on access to U.S. capital markets, scrutiny of international investment and banking activities by violators, and stricter visa controls for the individuals involved.

The Bush administration should support the rescheduling of Russia´s $150 billion debt to the Paris Club only in exchange for its active cooperation in cutting the flow of advanced military technology to Iran. The administration should make clear that it opposes further rescheduling of Russian debt to the Paris Club as long as Moscow continues to export dangerous military technology to Iran.

Last but not least, the United States should assist the Iranian people in their quest to achieve genuine democracy. Despite the reform efforts of President Khatami, the current regime remains a harsh dictatorship of radical Islamic ideologues. The Bush administration should support the creation of an international network of nongovernmental organizations concerned with the plight of Iranian students, businessmen, national and ethnic minorities, and women, the main supporters of reform who voted for Mr. Khatami in 1997 and for reformers during the 2000 parliamentary elections. Washington should help Iranians gain access to uncensored information by expanding the broadcasting range and frequencies of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and the Voice of America.

This strategy, implemented under President Ronald Reagan in Soviet-dominated Eastern Europe, proved highly successful. Applied to Iran, it could lead to the emergence of democratic forms of government and leadership. The Bush administration should definitely take this lesson from the Ronald Reagan foreign policy manual.

Ariel Cohen is a research fellow in Russian and Eurasian studies in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at the Heritage Foundation.

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