Clinton Signs 'Iran Nonproliferation Act'

Matthew Rice

ENDING A TWO-YEAR dispute with Congress, on March 14 President Clinton signed the Iran Nonproliferation Act of 2000, which authorizes him to take punitive action against individuals or organizations known to be providing material aid to weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs in Iran. The legislation (H.R. 1883) also substantially cuts U.S. funding to Russian space agencies responsible for the joint U.S.-Russian space station project, absent a determination that Russia "has demonstrated and continues to demonstrate a sustained commitment to seek out and prevent" aid to Iran's weapons programs.

Clinton vetoed a 1998 version of the bill that focused on missile proliferation to Iran because it required the imposition of sanctions on Russian entities unless the president determined that a waiver of sanctions was "essential" to U.S. national security. The administration argued that the legislation, the Iran Missile Proliferation Sanctions Act of 1998, would harm the administration's effort to garner Russian cooperation on a wide range of proliferation issues.

However, to demonstrate his commitment to stopping Russian aid to Iran's WMD efforts and to avoid an override of his veto, Clinton amended Executive Order 12938, the 1994 order that declared a national emergency with regard to WMD proliferation, to allow the executive branch to impose financial penalties on proliferators. Clinton immediately exercised this new authority, sanctioning seven Russian entities in June 1998 for their assistance to Iran's ballistic missile program. Three more were sanctioned in January 1999 for the same reason. (See ACT, June/July 1998 and January/February 1999.)

The language of the new law is substantially less restrictive than the 1998 legislation. It requires the president to submit to Congress every six months a list of entities known to be providing material assistance to Iranian WMD programs. The president is then authorized and encouraged to utilize Executive Order 12938 provisions, arms export prohibitions, and dual-use export prohibitions on those entities. But the onus for action remains soundly with the president. Should the president decide not to take action against a particular entity, congressional notification and a written explanation is required, but a waiver is not.

Apart from expanded reporting requirements, the legislation will not require any demonstrable action by the administration against Russian entities. Russian officials nevertheless responded angrily to the suggestion that Russia was aiding Iranian programs.

"Why are we considered fools?" Sergei Ivanov, secretary of the Russian Security Council, asked in an interview with the Interfax news agency. Russia, he said, has no interest in giving Iran "a grenade with a pulled-out pin" that could then "be hurled back" at Moscow.

The Russian Foreign Ministry also balked at the legislation. In a March 15 statement released to Interfax, the Foreign Ministry noted that, depending on the administration's use of the authority granted in the legislation, the bill "may significantly undermine…Russian-American interaction in the field of non-proliferation and export control."

The bill's strong bipartisan support (the measure was passed unanimously in both houses) sent a message to the White House that Congress is concerned about Russian involvement in Iranian proliferation activities. Congressional sources said that many members see the legislation as a gentle reminder to the president that Capitol Hill is watching the administration on this issue.