- The Washington Times - Friday, October 27, 2000

The Clinton administration is continuing to withhold from Congress details of Vice President Al Gore's secret deals with Russia despite appeals made during closed-door briefings for members of Congress.

Senators yesterday were denied access to a secret list of Russian arms the administration allowed Moscow to send Iran without incurring U.S. sanctions, as agreed to in a secret deal, according to a letter from a group of senior Republicans.

During a House briefing yesterday, members were denied access to two secret letters one from Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and one written by Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright.

The refusal to disclose details about Mr. Gore's arrangements appears to fulfill a request made in a classified 1995 letter from Mr. Chernomyrdin.

According to the letter, first disclosed by The Washington Times Oct. 17, Mr. Chernomyrdin urged Mr. Gore to keep secret Russia's nuclear deal with Iran from "third parties, including the U.S. Congress."

During yesterday's briefing, State Department officials showed House members a copy of a separate classified 1995 "aide-memoire" signed by Mr. Gore and Mr. Chernomyrdin.

But the officials would not allow Congress to keep a copy, and they also refused to provide copies of the "Dear Al" letter from Mr. Chernomyrdin and another classified letter from Mrs. Albright sent to Moscow in January, congressional aides said.

The aide-memoire, signed by the two leaders, committed the United States not to impose sanctions on Russia for conventional arms sales to Iran that are required under U.S. law.

"We are asking for all the documents and don't have any as yet," said Rep. Benjamin A. Gilman, chairman of the House International Relations Committee. "And we want to know why sanctions were not enforced."

Mr. Gilman, New York Republican, made the remarks to reporters after a classified Capitol Hill briefing on the Gore-Chernomyrdin dealings.

On the Senate side, 10 Republican members, including several leaders, sent a letter to Mrs. Albright that accused the administration of "stonewalling" for refusing to turn over the Gore-Chernomyrdin documents.

"We expect the administration to share all of the requested documents with the committee no later than noon on Monday, October 30," the letter said.

"If the administration continues to stonewall, and withhold these documents from Congress, then the Foreign Relations Committee will have no choice but to issue a subpoena to obtain them."

Among the Republicans who signed the letter were Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi, Jesse Helms of North Carolina, Sam Brownback of Kansas, Gordon R. Smith of Oregon, John McCain of Arizona, Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, Fred Thompson of Tennessee, Don Nickles of Oklahoma, John W. Warner of Virginia and Richard C. Shelby of Alabama.

Meanwhile, Mr. Gore made his first comments on the growing controversy, which has taken on political overtones in the final week of the presidential campaign.

Mr. Gore said the deal "stopped any new arms sales for the last five years."

"Congress was briefed on it," Mr. Gore said on ABC's "Good Morning America."

Mr. Gore said U.S. law, including a 1992 law he co-sponsored, did not apply to Russia. The Gore-Chernomyrdin deal allowed Moscow to "finish out those contracts, which did not include advanced weaponry, and they agreed not to have any new ones."

He insisted the arrangement was "in the best interest of our country."

Congressional aides, however, said the deals were questionable and the fact that the administration is refusing to provide details now is raising serious concerns.

One Republican aide said "either Gore allowed thousands of Russian weapons systems listed in the annex to be sent, or he was snookered and the Russians never revealed what weapons they were sending, even though the United States promised not to impose sanctions.

"Either way, it was a bad deal for the country," this aide said.

A House aide said members were "angered and frustrated" by the refusal to explain the deals during yesterday's briefing.

"Iran's nuclear weapons program was being built up and these agreements helped that," the aide said. "The Gore-Chernomyrdin agreement basically expedited Iran's nuclear missile program."

Texas Gov. George W. Bush called again yesterday for Mr. Gore to provide a full explanation of the secret arms dealing.

"Al Gore owes the American people an explanation about his role in the secret agreement between him and then-Prime Minister Chernomyrdin allowing Russia to sell arms to Iran," said Bush spokesman Dan Bartlett.

Mr. Bartlett added: "Senator McCain has said that Gore's claims on the issue are 'probably false' and that his actions are 'inexcusable.' Al Gore's explanation of his secret agreement regarding arms sales to Iran defies credibility."

Former Rep. Lee Hamilton, the former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said yesterday he remembers being briefed on the Gore-Chernomyrdin deals several times.

Other House and Senate aides said there is no record of detailed briefings on the plan to avoid sanctions on Russia for arms sales.

One aide suggested that Mr. Hamilton's recollection could indicate that the administration chose to exclude the Republicans from its briefings on the issue.

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