- The Washington Times - Friday, March 16, 2001

Russian nuclear power officials said yesterday they will build a second nuclear reactor for Iran amid mounting concerns on Capitol Hill over Moscow's growing military and technology sales to Tehran.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers, meanwhile, will ask President Bush in a letter today to slash aid to Russia if arms deals announced this week during a Moscow summit between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Mohammed Khatami proceed.
The Bush administration, which considers Iran a rogue state and a sponsor of terrorism, warned Mr. Putin this week that sales of arms and nuclear technology to Iran would have "serious ramifications" for U.S.-Russian ties.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher declined to comment on the latest reactor deal, but added: "Our overall policy in this area is quite well known."
Russia in November abrogated a secret understanding with the Clinton administration that it would refrain from new arms deals with Iran. The Putin-Khatami meeting provided the first official fruits of the warming military relationship between the two countries.
Operators of a St. Petersburg nuclear plant are already at work on one nuclear reactor contract, worth about $800 million, that Tehran says will supply power from the Persian Gulf port of Bushehr.
The U.S. government has protested that Russian technology could be used to develop nuclear weapons.
Mr. Khatami toured the site of the St. Petersburg plant yesterday as part of the first visit by an Iranian leader to Russia in four decades.
Afterward, factory General-Director Yevgeny Sergeyev told reporters that Mr. Khatami confirmed plans to order a second reactor after the first is delivered, possibly by late next year.
Delays in delivering the first plant first ordered in the mid-1990s have been a source of friction between Iran and Russia.
But Mr. Sergeyev said yesterday the Iranian leader signaled his clear intention to proceed with a second contract that could be worth up to $1 billion for Russia's cash-strapped export sector.
Rep. Joseph M. Hoeffel, Pennsylvania Democrat and the principal author of the letter to be sent to Mr. Bush today, noted that a 1996 anti-terrorism law prohibits U.S. aid to countries that "provide lethal military equipment to terrorist states."
"We want a good relationship with the Russians," Mr. Hoeffel said in a telephone interview yesterday.
"But they can't expect a good relationship with us if they don't see the necessity of not selling arms to a rogue nation that sponsors terrorists," he added.
Iran has been on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism since 1984.
The United States provided more than $1 billion in assistance to Russia in fiscal year 2000, including $196 million under the Freedom Support Act; $222 million through Department of Energy programs; and $240 million in food assistance through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Another $360 million in funds under a program to reduce and control the old Soviet Union's nuclear-missile storage sites would not be affected any aid cutoff, said Mr. Hoeffel.
"The strategic implications of Russia's arms transfers to Iran cannot be underestimated," the congressional letter warned.
"Russia's recent actions should stimulate intense scrutiny by the United States, and while we recognize the waiver authority granted in this law, we urge you to act swiftly and appropriately," the lawmakers wrote to Mr. Bush.
Signers included former House International Relations Committee Chairman Benjamin A. Gilman, New York Republican; Rep. Gary L. Ackerman, New York Democrat and ranking minority member of the International Relations subcommittee on the Middle East; Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat; and Rep. Curt Weldon, Pennsylvania Republican and a leading voice among congressional Republicans on Russian issues.
Mr. Boucher said the administration had not yet received the letter and declined to comment on its contents.
Russian officials have rejected U.S. complaints about the Iranian deals, saying they were a bilateral matter between two sovereign states.
Sergei Ivanov, Mr. Putin's top security adviser, told senior Bush administration officials during a visit to Washington this week that Russia planned to sell only defensive arms and the sales would not destabilize the region.
Returning to Moscow yesterday, Mr. Ivanov told reporters he had had productive meetings with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of State Colin Powell.
"We had a good understanding on maintaining everything we achieved which was good under the previous administration and on creating new mechanisms," said Mr. Ivanov.
He said Moscow and Washington are still discussing new institutions for handling the bilateral relationship, to replace the joint commissions of the Clinton years chaired by Vice President Al Gore and a succession of Russian prime ministers.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.


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