- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 5, 2000

The House has passed legislation that would punish Russia with economic sanctions for selling supersonic cruise missiles to China.

The measure was passed late Tuesday night on a unanimous voice vote. It would prohibit the United States from providing debt relief for Moscow unless Russia agrees to stop all sales of SSN-22 Sunburn missiles to China.

The bill now goes to the Senate, where a companion bill has been introduced by Sen. Robert C. Smith, New Hampshire Republican.

Russia already has sold dozens of the missiles for use on two Sovremenny-class missile destroyers, Pentagon officials said. The first ship was delivered in February and a second one is set to be transferred as early as next month.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, California Republican and chief sponsor of the bill, said the missile is "the most dangerous anti-ship missile in the Russian, and now the Chinese, fleet."

"Our Navy admittedly has scant ability to defend against this 200-kiloton nuclear-capable weapon," Mr. Rohrabacher said.

Mr. Rohrabacher said in an interview that he hopes the legislation is a wake-up call to Russian leaders. "The Russians cannot continue to send deadly weapons and technology that is designed to kill American military personnel to our potential enemies and expect that we're going to do them any favors when it comes to debt restructuring," he said.

The White House said in a statement it opposes the bill because it "does not believe [the measure] would be effective in accomplishing its aim of dissuading Russian arms sales to China."

"Russia's economic stability can best be advanced through a reasonable and considered approach to dealing with Russia's indebtedness," the White House said.

The statement also said the administration is concerned that the legislation would be "inconsistent" with other U.S. goals toward Moscow. "The security of the American people is the first priority in our relationship with Russia," it said, noting that the administration closely monitors Russian arms sales and China's military development.

The legislation, known as the Russian Anti-ship Missile Nonproliferation Act, would block any rescheduling of unpaid bilateral debts owed to Washington by Moscow until the president certifies to Congress that Russia permanently ends all transfers of Sunburns that endanger U.S. national security.

It contains a provision that would allow the president to waive the sanctions in the U.S. national security interest. The president also is required to report to Congress every six months on the status of Russia-China missile sales.

Rep. Sherrod Brown, Ohio Democrat, said he supported the bill because the Sunburns "pose a danger to our navy and the Taiwan Straits."

"Russian sales of Moskit anti-ship missiles to the [People's Republic of China] pose a great threat to the security of Taiwan and to our country," Mr. Brown said on the House floor.

"These missiles arrived in China at a time when the mainland has enormously increased the number of other types of missiles on China's coast facing Taiwan," he said. "Taiwan is a vibrant democracy and a key economic player in the Asia-Pacific region, and it is unacceptable that the PRC continues to boast to the world about its missile threat to Taiwan and, by extension, of the United States."

Pentagon intelligence officials said the first shipment of Sunburns was sent to Russia in May. The first batch of 24 missiles was described by the officials as China's most significant recent weapons development for its navy.

The second shipment of missiles was scheduled to be sent last summer, the officials said.

One Pentagon official familiar with the sale said the Sunburns, because of their killing power, "really did change the capability of the [Chinese] surface force."

Officially, Pentagon spokesmen have sought to play down the Russian warship and missile sales as not a new development.

A report by a blue-ribbon panel of House Republicans criticized the Clinton administration for condoning the weapons sales between Russian and China.

The Moscow-Beijing cooperation "calls into question the fundamental prediction undergirding much Clinton administration security planning: that the United States will face no peer competitor in the military field during the next two decades," the report said.

Pentagon intelligence officials said in July that a second cruise-missile destroyer built by Russia began sea trials in June. That guided-missile ship was spotted in the Gulf of Finland and its exercises included a test firing of a Sunburn missile.

The second destroyer is scheduled to be sent to China by the end of the year.

The Sunburn has a range of 65 miles and can deliver nuclear or conventional warheads. Chinese military writings have indicated that Beijing's interest in the missiles is to use them against U.S. aircraft carrier battle groups.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide