Russian action on Iran could threaten Israel


WASHINGTON, Dec. 5 (JTA) – Russia’s decision to terminate its agreement with the U.S. on stopping Russian arms sales to Iran poses new threats to Israel’s security, Jewish groups warn.

Last Friday, Moscow pulled out of a pact sealed in 1995 by then-Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and Vice President Al Gore under which Russia agreed to end conventional arms exports to Iran.

A U.S. delegation will travel to Moscow on Wednesday, trying to preserve the embargo on weapons sales to Tehran.

“We remain committed to constraining arms sales that pose a threat to regional stability and to the national security interests of the United States, our friends, our allies in the region,” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Monday.

Boucher said the United States is not aware of any new Russian arms contracts with Iran, but wants the delegation to have a “frank and comprehensive discussion” with Russian officials about Moscow’s future intentions.

Russian involvement in Iranian weapons programs remains a major concern, said Barry Jacobs, the for the American Jewish Committee’s director of strategic studies.

Jacobs voiced disappointment that the formal agreement was allowed to lapse, but said the Gore-Chernomyrdin deal was not very effective anyway.

“Russian assistance never stopped,” Jacobs said, and therefore Iran remains a primary threat to Israel.

In testimony at an Oct. 5 Senate hearing on the transfer of Russian technology and strategic weapons capabilities to Iran, the AJCommittee called for U.S. restrictions on Iranian technology proliferation, and accused Iran of continuing to smuggle and develop weapons of mass destruction and delivery systems that could reach Israel.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the pro-Israel lobby, said Russian supply of weapons technology to rogue states like Iran remains an extremely serious problem.

Despite the passage this year of the Iran Nonproliferation Act, a measure designed to stop the flow of weapons technology from Russia to Iran, many have viewed the Clinton administration’s approach to the problem as too soft.

The issue will remain a top priority for AIPAC regardless of who assumes the presidency in January, AIPAC spokesman Kenneth Bricker said.

“The next administration may take this matter more seriously,” he added.

American Jewish groups had supported congressional attempts in 1998 to impose sanctions on Russian companies exporting missile technology to Iran. The Clinton administration, however, preferred to address the issue through diplomatic channels and stopped the legislation, saying it wanted more time to put a tough nuclear nonproliferation policy in place.

President Clinton did issue an executive order imposing economic penalties against Russian organizations that were found to be providing sensitive missile or nuclear assistance to Iran.

In 1998 Russia was involved in the construction of an Iranian nuclear facility, which Israel said might help Iran advance its military nuclear program and the production of nuclear byproducts. Earlier that year, the Kremlin announced that it had stopped supplying missile technology to Iran, and officials said they thwarted some Russian companies’ plans to provide the Islamic republic with technology that could have military uses.

According to a Central Intelligence Agency report, Iran sought nuclear-related equipment, material, and technical expertise from Russia during the second half of 1999.

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