- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 31, 2000

The House speaker and Senate majority leader yesterday rejected an offer from Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright for limited access to classified government documents concerning a secret arms deal between Vice President Al Gore and his Russian counterpart.

Mrs. Albright offered to let congressional leaders view but not copy some of the documents as part of a congressional investigation into a 1995 pact between Mr. Gore and Viktor Chernomyrdin, the Russian prime minister.

"We categorically reject your proposal to allow solely the four leaders of the House and Senate to read, but not retain, a small fraction of the requested documents," Speaker J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi said in a letter sent yesterday.

Without the documents, the Republican leaders said, Congress cannot properly investigate the matter.

"The elected representatives of the American people are certainly entitled to the requested documents in order to assess the extent of damage inflicted on America's credibility and security interests by the vice president's ill-conceived and counterproductive foray into the world of secret diplomacy.

"Madame Secretary, administration stonewalling and obstructionism of legitimate requests for relevant documents must stop," they wrote.

A group of 10 senators, including senior members and leaders, had imposed a deadline of noon yesterday for the documents, threatening to subpoena them if they were not produced.

A spokesman for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said yesterday that senators were still discussing whether to issue subpoenas. "This is totally unacceptable," Marc Thiessen, the spokesman, said of Mrs. Albright's latest offer.

The secret deal between Mr. Gore and Mr. Chernomyrdin was intended to halt Russian conventional arms sales to Iran and in exchange, the United State agreed not to impose penalties under U.S. nonproliferation laws.

Lawmakers are also investigating a second document, a 1995 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. The documents were first disclosed by The Washington Times and the New York Times.

At closed House and Senate hearings last week, State Department officials refused to provide the documents or discuss their contents, angering members and prompting threats to subpoena the material.

The Clinton administration is refusing to provide the documents and has dismissed lawmakers' requests for copies of the documents and detailed explanations of their contents as election-year politics.

House and Senate members have said the secret dealings with Russia appear to violate U.S. laws, including legislation on conventional arms sales to Iran, nuclear transfers to Iran and laws governing the submission of agreements to Congress.

"We have offered to provide the leadership of the Senate with access to the key documents at their convenience, and we'll see how that materializes," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters.

Mr. Boucher said because the matters involve sensitive diplomacy, the department is insisting on being "exceedingly careful" about releasing the information to Congress.

He said publicizing the documents could undermine U.S. efforts to curb the spread of nuclear weapons.

"We have an obligation to sustain a policy that has improved the national security of the United States over the last six years by limiting the number and quality of weapons that are gone to Iran," Mr. Boucher said. "We are trying to meet the congressional requests in a manner that doesn't simultaneously destroy our policy, which would not be in our national interest."

Mr. Hastert and Mr. Lott said in their letter that "it is grossly inaccurate and misleading to assert, as your letter does, that 'As a result [of the secret agreements], the security of U.S. forces and those of our allies in the region has been substantially enhanced.' "

"In fact the record of the past eight years demonstrates a dramatic increase in the threat posed to U.S. military forces and interests, and those of our friends and allies in the Middle East, as a result of Iran's burgeoning nuclear, missile, and conventional weapons capabilities capabilities enhanced primarily by Russian arms sales made in spirit of the Gore-Chernomyrdin agreements."

The leaders requested that the documents be furnished to the House and Senate oversight committees "immediately."

Portions of the 1995 Gore-Chernomyrdin agreement, called an "aide memoire," were published by The Washington Times. A second classified document, a letter from Mrs. Albright to the Russian foreign minister sent in January, also was published by The Times. In it, Mrs. Albright states that the 1995 aide memoire kept the United States from imposing sanctions on Russian as required by U.S. law.

Several senators have said the documents show the Clinton administration appears to violate the law.

Numerous U.S. intelligence reports have shown that Russia is continuing to sell conventional and nuclear technology and goods to Iran despite the secret agreements with the United States.

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