A bipartisan group of 11 former secretaries of state and defense and top national security officials yesterday expressed concern over Vice President Al Gore’s secret dealings with Russia.
“The military balance in regions of vital interest to America and her allies including the Persian Gulf, which is a critical source of the world’s energy supplies is the essential underpinning for a strong foreign policy,” the group said in a statement issued through the office of former Secretary of State George P. Shultz.
“That is why we are deeply disturbed by the agreement made between Vice President Gore and then Russian Premier Chernomyrdin in which America acquiesced in the sale by Russia to Iran of highly threatening military equipment such as modern submarines, fighter planes and wake-homing torpedoes.
They added: “We also find incomprehensible that this agreement was not fully disclosed even to those committees of Congress charged with receiving highly classified briefings apparently at the request of the Russian premier.
“But agreement to his request is even more disturbing since the Russian sales could have brought sanctions against Russia in accordance with a 1992 U.S. law sponsored by Senator John McCain and then Senator Al Gore,” the former officials said.
In addition to Mr. Shultz, the signers included former secretaries of state Henry Kissinger, James A. Baker III and Lawrence S. Eagleburger; former Clinton administration CIA Director R. James Woolsey; Zbigniew Bzezinski, national security adviser in the Carter administration; and former defense secretaries Caspar Weinberger, James R. Schlesinger, Donald Rumsfeld and Frank C. Carlucci. Former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft also signed.
The former officials were commenting on recent newspaper reports, including those in The Washington Times, revealing the back-channel dealing by Mr. Gore.
The statement was issued on the eve of a Senate hearing on the issue. The Senate will conduct hearings today on Mr. Gore’s agreements with Mr. Chernomyrdin that allowed Russian conventional arms and nuclear weapons technology to be sold to Iran without U.S. sanctions.
State Department officials will testify on the dealings before Senate Foreign Relations subcommittees on Near East affairs and European affairs, a spokesman said.
The administration tried to have the hearing closed, but it will be open to the public.
The Times reported last week that a secret 1995 agreement between Mr. Gore and Mr. Chernomyrdin, which was called an “aide memoire,” stated that the United States would not impose sanctions on Russia for its conventional arms sales as required under U.S. law.
The 1992 law and a 1996 amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act requires sanctions to be imposed on nations that sell advanced conventional arms or lethal aid to terrorist nations. Iran is designated a state sponsor of terrorism by the State Department.
The Times also reported a secret 1995 letter from Mr. Chernomyrdin to Mr. Gore detailing Moscow’s nuclear cooperation with Iran. The letter stated that Mr. Gore should not disclose the information to “third parties, including the U.S. Congress,” and noted that Mr. Chernomyrdin was “counting” on Mr. Gore’s cooperation in keeping Congress in the dark.
The Times also disclosed a Jan. 13 letter from Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright to Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov. In that letter, stamped “secret,” Mrs. Albright stated that the United States would have imposed sanctions on Russia for its conventional arms sales to Iran if there were no Gore-Chernomyrdin pact.
The document contradicted public statements by the Clinton administration that Russia’s arms sales to Iran did not trigger U.S. laws aimed at stemming the sale of weapons to Iran.