GOP Says Gore May Have Violated Law in Russia-Iran Nuclear Deal

November 2000

By Alex Wagner

Congressional Republicans claimed that Vice President Al Gore may have violated the law by keeping secret the details of a 1995 deal to restrict Moscow's transfer of nuclear technology to Iran. (See p. 23 for coverage of other accusations.)

In 1994, Russia had signed a contract with Iran to complete a light-water nuclear reactor at Bushehr and to sell Tehran gas centrifuge uranium enrichment technology, which the United States contended would enhance Iran's ability to develop nuclear weapons. At a May 1995 summit in Moscow, President Bill Clinton announced that he had secured a pledge from then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin to halt the sale. The technical and legal details of Yeltsin's assurance were subsequently worked out in an existing bilateral commission chaired by Gore and then-Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin.

The accusations were made after The Washington Times published an October 17 article citing a classified letter from Chernomyrdin to Gore dated December 9, 1995, in which Chernomyrdin writes that information about Russia's nuclear relationship with Iran is "not to be conveyed to third parties, including the U.S. Congress." According to the 1978 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act, Congress must be notified of any negotiated agreement that seeks to address nuclear exports that could create proliferation concerns.

The published details of the letter drew a swift response from GOP legislators. During a press conference October 19, Senator Gordon Smith (R-OR) said that not informing relevant Senate committees of the deal's specifics was "a violation of the law." At an October 18 hearing of the House International Relations Committee, Chairman Benjamin Gilman (R-NY) said that "the American people have a right to expect their administration to clarify that Congress is not a third party to be kept in the dark."

Administration officials have said they adequately furnished Congress with the details of the agreement in 1995. At an October 19 press briefing, White House spokesman Jake Siewert called the accusation that the accord was kept secret "simply not true." He noted that the administration briefed the House International Relations Committee and provided the press with a fact sheet on the agreement. According to a State Department official, the administration also briefed members of Congress and congressional staffs.

Administration officials also maintained that the deal was beneficial to U.S. security and that without it, Iran's nuclear capabilities would be far more advanced than they are now. In testimony before a joint subcommittee hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee October 25, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Nonproliferation Joseph DeThomas characterized the handling of the issue as a "partisan brawl."