- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 23, 2000

Russia is pulling out of a 1995 arms agreement signed by Vice President Al Gore after portions of the pact were disclosed in The Washington Times, U.S. officials said yesterday.

White House spokesman P.J. Crowley said the administration would retaliate for any unilateral withdrawal from the 1995 agreement, known as an "aide-memoire," aimed at curbing Moscow's conventional arms sales to Iran. The White House will impose economic sanctions required under U.S. weapons proliferation laws.

"The Russians informed us that as of Dec. 1 they intend to withdraw from the aide-memoire," Mr. Crowley said. "They cited recent press leaks and publication of selected portions of the aide-memoire as a pretext for withdrawal."

The Times published sections of the aide-memoire on Oct. 17. The agreement, signed by Mr. Gore and then-Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, was first reported a week earlier by the New York Times. The Gore campaign said the disclosures were politically motivated.

According to Mr. Crowley, President Clinton raised the Iran arms agreement with Russian President Vladimir Putin during a meeting in Brunei last week.

"We have told them at the highest levels that there will be consequences, including sanctions, for unilateral withdrawal," Mr. Crowley said.

The United States concluded the agreement because it was "in our interests," he said. "If the Russians withdraw, it will have serious implications not only for our security but for the security of our friends and allies in the Middle East."

The sentiment was echoed at the State Department. Spokesman Phil Reeker said of the Russian notification: "We're very troubled by that" because continuing to arm Iran would have "serious implications" for regional security.

On Capitol Hill, Rep. Benjamin A. Gilman, chairman of the House International Relations Committee, said the agreement fell apart because it was poorly put together.

"Such a misguided policy of acquiescence to Russian arms transfers to Iran has not been able to withstand public scrutiny, and has now collapsed of its own weight," the New York Republican said. "It is hoped that the administration will now proceed expeditiously to impose sanctions required under U.S. law, which previously had been waived by the Gore-Chernomyrdin agreement."

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov informed Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright of Moscow's intentions in a note that arrived several days before the Nov. 7 election. The administration is negotiating with Moscow to try to prevent the Russians from pulling out, U.S. officials said. The note, first reported yesterday in The Washington Post, said the Russians would resume arms sales on Dec. 1.

The issue could be raised by Mrs. Albright during meetings with Russian officials in Vienna, Austria, at an upcoming meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. However, officials said it is not clear yet that Mrs. Albright will attend the session, which begins Monday.

The agreement, classified "secret," reveals that the Clinton administration agreed not to impose sanctions required under U.S. law if Moscow promised to halt conventional arms sales to Iran by Dec. 31, 1999.

The agreement states that the United States would "take appropriate steps to avoid any penalties to Russia that might otherwise arise under domestic law."

It also says 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.

Congress is investigating the agreement and Republicans have said the administration appears to have violated the law by ignoring proliferation statutes and by keeping Congress in the dark on the matter.

Lawmakers also are investigating a second document, a classified 1995 "Dear Al" letter from Mr. Chernomyrdin to Mr. Gore that outlines Russia's nuclear transfers to Iran and calls on the vice president to keep the arrangement secret from Congress.

According to a third classified document, a letter from Mrs. Albright to the Russian foreign minister sent in January, Russian arms sales to Iran continued after the December deadline.

In a "Dear Igor" letter to Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, Mrs. Albright stated that the aide-memoire kept the United States from imposing sanctions. "Without the aide-memoire, Russia's conventional arms sales to Iran would have been subject to sanctions based on various provisions of our laws," she stated.

Moscow's decision "to continue delivering arms to Iran beyond the Dec. 31 deadline will unnecessarily complicate our relationship," Mrs. Albright said.

The 1992 Iran-Iraq Nonproliferation Act requires the imposition of sanctions for "destabilizing" arms sales to either Middle East 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.

The Chernomyrdin letter outlining nuclear dealings with Iran urged the vice president to keep details secret from Congress. Congressional aides said the advice was followed and Congress was never told about the nuclear arrangements.

Mr. Chernomyrdin stated that Russian nuclear assistance to Iran is part of a program to build a nuclear reactor, train Iranian technicians in Russia and deliver nuclear fuel to Tehran from 2001 to 2011.

A U.S. analysis of the assistance, which accompanied Mrs. Albright's letter, stated that the Russian aid "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.

Despite Moscow's claim to limit nuclear assistance, numerous U.S. intelligence reports have shown that the aid to Iran is continuing outside the declared limits, U.S. officials have said.

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