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U.S. to End Limit on Russian Space Launches

Citing the Russian government's progress in stemming proliferation of missile technology to Iran, the Clinton administration opted not to renew a seven-year-old agreement that restricted the number of international commercial launches by Russian space-launch service providers. The December 31 expiration of the U.S.-Russian Commercial Space Launch Agreement effectively opens the door for Russia to carry out an unlimited number of commercial launches.

State Department spokesman Philip Reeker emphasized in a December 1 press briefing that the agreement "has been used effectively to encourage Russian cooperation in curtailing the transfer of sensitive missile technology to Iran, [as] part of our nonproliferation program." Reeker said that ensuring the Russian Space Agency's continued "measurable progress" in curbing the sale of missile technology to Iran was a "top priority." A State Department official noted that the department is "still concerned" about Russia's involvement with Iran's missile program.

In 1999, Congress included language in the FY 2000 National Defense Authorization Act that encouraged increasing the quantitative limitations applicable to Russian commercial space launch services, as long as Russia "demonstrates a sustained commitment to seek out and prevent" further proliferation of missile equipment or technology to "Iran or any other country."

Signed in 1993, the agreement originally allowed for 16 launches per year, but was amended in 1996 to allow up to 20.

Moscow responded positively to the news the United States had allowed the agreement to expire. The Russian Foreign Ministry released a statement December 7 that said dropping the quota "opens new opportunities for strengthening mutually advantageous bilateral cooperation in . . . peaceful space exploration," according to Itar-Tass, the state-run news agency.

The expiration of the launch quota should also yield substantial financial benefits for Lockheed Martin in its role within Lockheed Khrunichev Energia International (LKEI), the joint venture that executes Russian launch service contracts. With no restrictions on launches, LKEI stands to gain market share. Each launch brings approximately $70 million in revenue.