HOPING TO avert an override of President Bill Clinton's June 23 veto of a bill to sanction entities aiding Iran's ballistic missile program, the White House announced on July 15 that it would impose new proliferation-related sanctions on seven Russian firms for transfers to Iran and other countries. The U.S. decision followed a Russian announcement earlier that day naming nine companies to be investigated (including the seven targeted for sanctions) by a new Export Control Commission for violations of Russian export control laws. Following the U.S. and Russian announcements, the House of Representatives postponed an override vote scheduled for July 17. Congress will reconsider a vote when it returns from summer recess the second week of September.
The Clinton administration has been seeking ways to cut off the flow of missile technology from Russian firms to Iran since January 1997. Russia's latest attempt to strengthen its export control system came on July 19, when President Boris Yeltsin signed into law new regulations on military-technical cooperation with foreign states. Under pressure from the United States, Moscow adopted a "catch-all" decree in January to regulate exports of all technology usable in weapons of mass destruction. Two additional presidential orders followed in May requiring Russian exporters to determine the end-use of their products, and to give overall regulatory authority for the Russian commercial space industry to the Russian Space Agency. Each of the Russian decrees occurred just ahead of scheduled congressional action on the Iran Missile Proliferation Sanctions Act, which administration officials repeatedly warned would be vetoed.
After several delays at the administration's request, the Senate approved the sanctions bill on May 22. (See ACT, May 1998.) On June 9, the House adopted the Senate's version of the bill, which also contained the implementing legislation for U.S. obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention. (See p. 34.) Both chambers adopted the legislation by overwhelmingostensibly veto-proof-margins (392-22 in the House and 90-4 in the Senate).
In his June 24 veto message to Congress, Clinton asserted that the bill set too low an evidentiary standard for imposing sanctions and could result in indiscriminate punishment, thus diminishing U.S. credibility in seeking cooperation on non-proliferation from other governments. The president pointed out that the automatic application of sanctions called for in the bill would hurt U.S. diplomatic efforts to work with supplier states, particularly Russia, on improving their own export-enforcement mechanisms. Clinton also cited steps that have been taken by Moscow as evidence of the success of the administration's approach that would be jeopardized by the proposed legislation.
On July 28, the administration announced the issuance of a new executive order (No. 13094) that broadens the range of both sanctionable activities and of sanctions. The new order, which amends a 1994 executive order (No. 12938) that authorized the imposition of sanctions for proliferation of chemical and biological weapons technology, now covers technology for nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles capable of delivering weapons of mass destruction. The amended order will no longer require a finding that a foreign person "knowingly and materially" contributed to sanctionable activity. Now, only a material contribution is necessary to invoke sanctions, dropping the standard that exporters have knowledge of the end-use of their products. …