Russia Issues New Export Decree To Stem Missile Transfers to Iran

By Howard Diamond

Following a A year of steady high-level U.S. diplomatic pressure, Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin on January 22, issued a new "catch-all" regulation to cut off the flow of Russian technology and materials to Iran's ballistic missile development effort. The edict will—if fully implemented—close an important gap in Russian export laws and regulations that Iran has used to acquire technologies not explicitly listed for control, according to an administration official. The decree, which took effect immediately, could also provide the Clinton administration with the leverage it needs to halt congressional efforts to sanction Moscow for past transfers of missile technology.

The new regulation requires Russian businesses to forgo transactions of dual-use nuclear, chemical, biological or missile technology or services when they know or have reason to know of a proliferation end-use, and report to Moscow all proposed contracts of restricted dual-use materials and technology. The decree is similar to parts of the 1991 Enhanced Proliferation Control Initiative (EPCI) in the United States and like measures in other countries that require industry cooperation in controlling potentially dangerous exports. Such measures, however, depend heavily on government efforts to advise businesses of customers to avoid, as well as the willingness of companies to abstain from illegal but often lucrative deals.

The U.S. official said that over the long term, the effectiveness of the decree will depend on whether Moscow puts up the money to support a solid export control regime—something the United States will be watching closely. He added that Moscow appears to be taking new steps to end the transfer of missile technology by limiting access for Iranian students to advanced aerospace training and warning both Russian companies and Tehran that leaks of Russian ballistic missile technology will not be tolerated.

The Clinton administration has made stopping Tehran's drive to acquire nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, as well as ballistic missiles for their delivery, one of its highest priorities, and has won pledges from both Russia and China to either cut off or limit their cooperation with Iran. Beijing has promised Washington that it will end its nuclear cooperation and sales of anti-ship cruise missiles to Iran. (See page 30.) Moscow, on the other hand, while pledging not to sell weapons or nuclear enrichment and reprocessing technologies to Iran, has rejected White House requests not to finish the German-origin 1,000-megawatt (electric) light-water reactor project at Bushehr on the Iranian coast.

Iran's Missile Efforts

Washington believes Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons in spite of its membership as a non-nuclear-weapon state in the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and is concerned Tehran is now developing missiles that could deliver nuclear warheads. News reports based on U.S. intelligence claim Tehran is trying to produce two types of medium-range missiles: the 1,300-kilometer Shahab-3, based on the North Korean Nodong missile, with a 750-kilogram payload; and the 2,000-kilometer Shahab-4, alleged to be based on the Soviet SS-4 missile, with a 1,000-kilogram payload.

CIA Director George Tenet told the Senate Intelligence Committee on January 28 that much of Iran's progress in moving up the deployment dates for the two missiles—from the 1997 estimate of 10 years or less to the current estimate of only two or three years—is due to assistance from Russian companies. Leaked U.S. and Israeli intelligence reports have suggested widespread Russian cooperation with Iran on engine technology, guidance systems and special materials, and have named several entities including Rosvoorouzhenie, the state arms-export agency; the Bauman Institute, an advanced technical education center; the companies NPO Trud, Polyus and Inor; as well as the Russian Space Agency (RSA) and its director, Yuri Koptev.

Koptev's name has sparked special concern because he has been leading the Russian side in bilateral efforts to address U.S. concerns about the missile technology leaks. According to the administration official, however, the accusations about him and the RSA are not accurate. Koptev's and the RSA's involvement with Iran, he said, has been limited to discussions of peaceful space cooperation and satellites.

Since July 1997, Koptev has met four times with U.S. special envoy Ambassador Frank Wisner as part of an ongoing diplomatic mechanism to assess U.S. intelligence showing possible technology transfers to Tehran and to discuss ways of preventing them. Koptev told reporters on January 30 that out of 13 warnings, Washington's intelligence has produced only two cases in which Russian officials found illicit activities. Wisner's last visit to Moscow, on January 13, was described by U.S. officials as his most productive trip yet. Wisner is expected to make another trip to Russia prior to the March 9-11 meetings in Washington of the Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission which has also been addressing the missile technology issue.

Signs of progress through the Wisner-Koptev mechanism and Moscow's recent promulgation of the export decree have put the Clinton administration in a delicate position with regard to punishing Russian entities for past cooperation with Iran's missile program. U.S. laws enforcing the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) require sanctions if entities in a member-state violate the regime's prohibition on selling missiles or missile technology for systems capable of delivering a 500 kilogram payload over 300 kilometers without the member-state taking adequate investigative or enforcement action. Sanctions could also be imposed under the EPCI at the president's choosing. According to the administration official, however, discretionary sanctions under the EPCI would be counterproductive. The administration has yet to make a determination with regard to the companies' legal culpability under U.S. sanctions laws.

Congressional Action

Its apparent reluctance to "get tough" on Moscow and impose sanctions has been critically received on Capitol Hill and has prompted new legislation aimed at sanctioning Russia. Prior to ending its last session on November 12, the House of Representatives adopted, by a voice vote, the Iran Missile Proliferation Sanctions Act of 1997, intended to punish any entity that provides technology or assistance to Tehran's ballistic missile program.

Senate Democrats blocked a move to quickly adopt the House bill and, at the administration's request, the Senate has held off further consideration of the measure. According to one Hill staffer, even with 84 co-sponsors, Senate action on the measure is unlikely until after the GCC meeting in March in order to give the administration time to work with Moscow on concrete steps to stop the missile technology leaks.

In addition to sanctioning entities found to be assisting Tehran's missile program, the legislation also includes the implementation language for the Chemical Weapons Convention, making the bill harder for the president to veto. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and National Security Advisor Samuel Berger have already stated, however, that the president will not accept the measure as it now stands.

The administration's chief objections are that the proposed statute will undermine the diplomatic efforts that are showing signs of success and that, unlike other U.S. laws, the new sanctions bill doesn't require a high-standard of evidence or even an exporter's awareness of complicity in proliferation efforts to be liable for punishment. Sanctions would also have to be imposed within 30 days of receiving "credible evidence" of an entity's involvement in Iran's missile program, opening the possibility of sanctions being imposed erroneously. The bill does allow for a presidential waiver, but only where doing so is "essential to the national security of the United States."