WASHINGTON (Oct. 14)
Jewish activists and members of Congress are urging the Clinton administration to impose economic sanctions against Russian government agencies and firms found to be helping Iran develop weapons of mass destruction.
Israeli officials estimate that with help from Russia, Tehran will have the ability to launch ballistic missiles equipped with chemical, biological and other warheads capable of reaching Israel and other states in the region within the next 18 months.
While Israeli officials and American Jewish organizations press for urgent action to prevent Iran from further developing its missile program, the Clinton administration remains concerned that too much pressure could jeopardize its relations with Russia.
“Russia has made clear that its policy is not to assist Iran’s missile program,” State Department spokesman James Rubin said last week. “We have now established a mechanism to pursue this with the Russians and are working hard to resolve the problem.”
He declined to give further details, but said Clinton’s special envoy Frank Wisner, who has been charged with pursuing the Russian-Iran problem, was expected to visit Moscow shortly.
Israel claims that Russian scientists and engineers helped develop the engine and guidance system of the Iranian missile now in development and that the Russian space agency provided wind tunnel testing for the rocket fuselage.
Last week, Russia’s security service confirmed that Iran had attempted to seek Russian help in developing its missile technology, but said that all such attempts had been thwarted.
The House International Relations Committee, meanwhile, has adopted a non- binding resolution urging the Clinton administration to impose sanctions against “responsible Russian entities” found to be aiding Iran’s efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction.
“Russia has already provided Iran with critical know-how and technological support,” said Rep. Benjamin Gilman (R-N.Y.), chairman of the committee. “We have but a few months to prevent the Iranians from achieving a quantum leap in their missile program.”
The committee is expected to take up tougher legislation later this month aimed at enforcing existing sanctions.
Meanwhile, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and other Jewish organizations are urging the administration to move beyond diplomatic channels, which they say have not yielded results, and impose sanctions against Russian companies helping Iran build missiles.
Jewish officials and some members of Congress have also proposed cutting a portion of Russia’s foreign aid.
“Russian technology is the driving force behind Iran’s missile program,” AIPAC stated in an advertisement placed in Jewish newspapers last week.
“Now is the time,” the ad continues, “for Congress and the administration to force Russian companies to choose between their deadly partnership with Iran or their future in the world marketplace.”
AIPAC officials say they have made the issue their top priority.
The controversy comes amid reports that a second European oil company is in the process of finalizing a multibillion-dollar energy deal with Iran. The Washington Post reported this week that Shell, the British-Dutch energy conglomerate, is negotiating to build a $2.5 billion gas pipeline across northern Iran.
The Shell project would carry natural gas from the former Soviet republic of Turkmenistan to Turkey and Western Europe and would be a breakthrough in efforts to export the vast resources of the Caspian Sea region, the Post said.
News of the deal follows an announcement last month that the French oil and gas company Total had joined Russian gas giant Gazprom and the Malaysian state oil company Petronas in a $2 billion deal to develop an Iranian offshore gas field.
Both projects fly in the face of a 1996 U.S. law intended to curb investment that the United States believes would provide Iran with funds to promote terrorism or develop weapons of mass destruction, including a nuclear capability.
The Iran-Libya Sanctions Act provides for punitive trade measures against companies investing more than $20 million a year in Iran’s energy sector.
Faced with staunch opposition from the European Union, which opposes any attempt to apply U.S. law to foreign companies, the administration decided to defer sanctions against Total, pending negotiations with the European Union.
“These will be some of the largest energy projects under way on the planet at this time,” a senior official of a pro-Israel organization said of the Total and Shell deals.
“The amount of money that they’re investing is equal to the scale of Iran’s nuclear program.”