U.S. Sanctions Russian Entities for Iranian Dealings

 Howard Diamond

AGAINST A BACKDROP of deteriorating U.S.-Russian relations, the Clinton administration on January 12 announced the imposition of economic sanctions on three Russian entities for sharing nuclear and missile technology with Iran. National Security Adviser Samuel Berger announced the sanctions on the Moscow Aviation Institute, the Mendeleyev University of Chemical Technology, and the Scientific Research and Design Institute of Power Technology (known as NIKIET) at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's annual non-proliferation conference in Washington. "The administration has authority to act against entities that violate international nonproliferation standards," stated Berger, "and we will use this authority to protect our security."

The sanctions, which indefinitely block all trade with, U.S. government assistance to, or U.S. government procurement from the three entities, were applied under a July 1998 executive order that broadened the range of both sanctionable activities and sanctions. In that month the Clinton administration sanctioned seven other Russian entities as part of a successful effort to block sanctions legislation in Congress that the administration regarded as excessively rigid. (See ACT, June/July 1998.)

Moscow, already angered over U.S. air strikes on Iraq in December, harshly criticized the U.S. announcement, with Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov describing Washington's decision as "counterproductive to U.S.-Russian relations." A Foreign Ministry statement on January 14 declared the U.S. allegations "completely groundless" and said the three entities' activities are "fully consistent with Russia's domestic legislation and its international obligations in the area of missile and nuclear non-proliferation." On January 23, however, First Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Maslyukov, Russia's economics chief, was quoted in The Washington Post as saying, "Some of the cases [the Americans] have presented turned out to be true."

State Department spokesman James Rubin acknowledged on January 13 that initial Russian efforts to prevent illicit technology transfers—including the adoption in January 1998 of a "catch-all" export rule—had produced "a significant amount of success." However, said Rubin, "movement in the right direction has stopped, and there has been a steady deterioration in this area."

Ambassador Robert Gallucci, the U.S. special envoy for non-proliferation, said at the Carnegie conference that Moscow has failed to prosecute either the seven firms previously sanctioned by Washington or two other firms named by Moscow in July 1998 as being under investigation.

In December 1998 a U.S. delegation led by Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott went to Moscow to press for stronger enforcement of Russia's non-proliferation commitments. At the time, Rubin warned that failure by Moscow to crack down on missile technology transfers to Iran would prevent the United States from raising the quota of U.S. satellites that can be launched on Russian rockets from 16 to 27. Each launch is worth between $40 and $100 million.

Two of the newly sanctioned entities, NIKIET and Mendeleyev University, are alleged to have provided technology helpful to Iran's drive to acquire nuclear weapons. NIKIET was previously run by Minister of Atomic Energy Yevgeny Adamov, a strong advocate of civil nuclear cooperation with Iran. Moscow agreed in 1995 to complete Iran's 1,000-megawatt light-water Bushehr nuclear power plant for $800 million, but at the request of the United States promised not to sell Iran uranium enrichment or spent fuel reprocessing technology. Adamov traveled to Tehran in November 1998 to discuss accelerating construction of the Bushehr reactor and possibly building an additional three reactors at the site.

A December 15 story in The Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S. intelligence community believes Russian entities are trying to sell Tehran a 40-megawatt heavy water research reactor and a uranium conversion facility, while Russian scientists are alleged to be advising Iran on how to produce heavy water and nuclear-grade graphite. Coupled with technology for reprocessing spent fuel to extract plutonium, these technologies could enable Iran to produce one or two bombs' worth of fissile material per year.

The Moscow Aviation Institution, the third sanctioned entity, is alleged to have provided assistance in flight control for Iran's ballistic missile program. Addressing the Senate Armed Services Committee on February 2, CIA Director George Tenet stated that "Russia has continued to assist the Iranian missile effort" and that "Iran will continue to seek longer range missiles and to seek foreign assistance in their development." The CIA's biannual report, "Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction," said that Iran has begun production of its 1,300-kilometer-range Shahab-3 missile, first flight-tested in July 1998.

Yet Iranian Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani said on February 7 that the Shahab-3 will be the "last military missile Iran will produce." According to Shamkhani, the Shahab-4, which is alleged to have a range of 2,000 kilometers and may be based on the Soviet SS-4, will be used only as a space-launch vehicle.