- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 18, 2001

Russia's penchant for exporting arms to rogue nations is one of those pesky, foreign policy problems the Clinton administration left for President George W. Bush to deal with. Indeed, former President Bill Clinton has left Mr. Bush a legacy of troubles on every continent.

Last week, Russia said it plans to sign a military-technical cooperation agreement with Iran, which would amount to arms sales worth $300 million. This statement flies in the face of an ill-conceived and clandestine agreement that the Clinton administration reached with the Kremlin in 1995. Under that agreement, the White House promised Moscow it wouldn't sanction Russia for its arms and nuclear sales to Iran if they ended by 1999. The White House failed to report this deal to either Congress or the American public until newspapers made it public. In October, The Washington Times disclosed the nuclear aspect of the agreement. It should come as no surprise that the Russians never gave the secret, and therefore unenforceable, pact any importance.

On Monday, the Financial Times reported that "Russia seems to have decided that the economic gains from courting Iran will outweigh the diplomatic costs of defying Washington." Since the Kremlin suffered no costs for its weapons exports under the Clinton administration, it is no wonder it has reached that conclusion. Apparently, launching a serious effort to try to block Russian arms and nuclear exports to Tehran seemed too troublesome a pursuit for the Clinton administration.

But the Russia-Iran weapons connection is not the only Kremlin-related problem Mr. Clinton left brewing for Mr. Bush. Bill Gertz of The Washington Times, reported on Feb. 15 that U.S. spy satellites have located the exact position of Russian tactical nuclear weapons in Kaliningrad, a military base on the Baltic Sea. The Washington Times was the first news outlet to report the transfer of the Russian weapons to Kaliningrad, which is located 250 miles away from Russia proper, between Poland and Lithuania. Moscow has repeatedly denied the weapons transfer took place, but U.S. intelligence convincingly contradicts these denials.

Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have all expressed alarm over the nuclear deployment. And a Pentagon spokesman told this paper last month it violates Moscow's pledge to keep the Baltic region nuclear-free. As expected, the Clinton administration shrugged off the deployment. "There is no law or violation of any kind," said former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in January.

Now it is up to the Bush administration to convince the Kremlin that nuclear and arms exports to Iran and the nuclear deployment to Kaliningrad are ultimately against Russia's longer-term interest. In view of Mrs. Albright's comment on the matter, it won't be difficult for the Bush team to improve on U.S. diplomacy.

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