Senate Approves Sanctions Legislation Aimed at Russian-Iranian Missile Cooperation

By Diamond, Howard | Arms Control Today, May 1998 | Go to article overview

Senate Approves Sanctions Legislation Aimed at Russian-Iranian Missile Cooperation


Diamond, Howard, Arms Control Today


SIGNALING ITS dissatisfaction with the Clinton administration's efforts to get Moscow to rein in transfers of ballistic missile technology to Iran, the Senate on May 22 passed the Iran Missile Proliferation Sanctions Act by a vote of 90-4. In the weeks prior to the Senate vote, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and national security advisor Samuel Berger warned of a presidential veto due to the measure's low evidentiary standard for imposing sanctions, and the anticipated negative effect on diplomatic efforts underway with Russia.

The House of Representatives adopted a nearly identical version of the bill on a voice vote in November 1997, and will now take up the Senate's version of the bill. The key difference between the House and Senate measures is an amendment by Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) that made the bill's provisions effective for acts occurring after January 22,1998, when former Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin issued a "catch-all" decree to provide additional control over proliferation-sensitive exports. Before Chernomyrdin issued the January decree, Russian officials had claimed that their ability to prevent technology transfers was limited by the absence of sufficient legal authority. The previous effective date in the sanctions bill was August 1995, which corresponded to Russia's entry into the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR).

Moscow has been under pressure from the United States to control transfers of ballistic missile technology to Iran since January 1997, when reports of Russian involvement first emerged. Subsequently, news reports based on leaked intelligence have alleged that Russian firms have provided Tehran with key technology and technical assistance for missile engines, aerodynamic problem solving, wind-tunnel testing, special materials and metals, guidance system components, and solid rocket fuel development. The Russian Space Agency (RSA) and Moscow's Federal Security Service have also been accused of aiding in technology transfers, but U.S. officials have cleared the RSA of any wrong-doing.

Eight days before the Senate vote, Russian President Boris Yeltsin issued two new executive orders detailing how the January decree will be put into effect. The first of Yeltsin's decrees requires the creation of an export control unit in all Russian businesses dealing in nuclear or missile technology, and lays out proceduresincluding a list of so-called "red-flags"-to guide exporters on how to avoid illicit buyers. The second decree gives the RSA overall control and responsibility for Russia's policy on missile technology, including the ability to block sales by other government agencies and institutes to suspect end-users.

Russia's Foreign Ministry attacked the U.S. legislation on May 25, describing the measure as an attempt "to hamper legitimate trade and economic ties with Iran" under the cover of non-proliferation. Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeniy Primakov warned on May 12 that if the United States imposed sanctions on Russian firms, chances for winning Duma ratification of START II would be set back.

The Legislation

The sanctions legislation requires the president to make a series of reports listing entities for which there is "credible evidence" showing assistance or attempted assistance in transferring ballistic missile components or technology to Iran. Unlike all other U.S. export control and non-proliferation measures, the Iran Missile Proliferation Sanctions Act does not require an entity to be aware of its involvement in prohibited trade to be in jeopardy of punishment. …

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