MOSCOW (Mar. 16)
Belarus might become an arms supplier to the Middle East.
The president of Belarus, Aleksandr Lukashenko, recently wrapped up a trip to Tehran and Damascus during which he said he welcomed increased cooperation between the former Soviet republic and the two countries.
Some experts worry that Belarus, which has been increasingly ruled with an iron fist since Lukashenko took office in the summer of 1994, might become a conduit for Russian and Ukrainian arms technologies to the Middle East.
Indeed, in Damascus, where Lukashenko and Syrian President Hafez Assad signed an agreement on military and technical cooperation, the Belarusian leader said his country could provide equipment to substitute for the arms previously supplied to Syria by the Soviet Union — and, in more recent years, Russia.
In Tehran, Lukashenko held talks with Iranian President Mohammed Khatami and the Islamic republic’s supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Khatami called for the boosting of economic, political and scientific ties between the two countries.
Meanwhile, Russia said last week it would continue to help build a nuclear power plant in Iran despite opposition from the United States.
The news came as Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin was holding talks with U.S. Vice President Al Gore in Washington on issues that included the transfer of Russian nuclear technology to Iran.
The United States and Israel have been pressing Russia to drop the project to develop the Bushehr nuclear power plant, suggesting that Iran may be using the technologies involved to help develop nuclear weapons.