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Russia, U.S. Split on Arms Control

August 30, 1998

MOSCOW (AP) _ If the White House thought imposing sanctions on Russian technology firms would scare them away from deals with Iran, Gennady Khromov wants to set the record straight: No way.

``The sanctions mean nothing to us,″ he said.

Khromov is export controls expert at Glavkosmos, one of seven Russian companies and institutes the Clinton administration sanctioned last month. Effective immediately, they will no longer be able to do business with U.S. firms.

The problem is _ they don’t do business with America in the first place.

``The sanctions are groundless and pointless,″ Khromov said.

The White House action, and Khromov’s reaction, illustrate one of the deep divides in U.S.-Russian relations as this week’s summit conference nears.

On arms control, the United States tends to focus on the safety of nuclear weapons, especially the spread of weapons and technology from Russia to what Washington considers ``rogue″ states like Iran and Libya.

The Russians tend to focus on more traditional arms-control issues, including conventional weapons and control of strategic arms.

``They basically have the same priorities, but the accent is on different things,″ said Alexander Pikayev, a military analyst at the Moscow branch of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a U.S. think tank.

This means that when presidents Boris Yeltsin and Bill Clinton sit down to talk about arms control at the summit Tuesday through Thursday, there may be some friction.

The Russians see the greatest threat to their security in NATO’s overwhelming superiority in conventional weapons and would like to even the balance. They also want to negotiate deeper cuts in nuclear missiles in a START III treaty.

Asking Clinton to reduce NATO’s war-fighting capability would be a nonstarter. And as for START III, the main obstacle is the Russian parliament. Angry over Russia’s declining superpower status, lawmakers have refused to ratify the previous treaty, START II, despite pleas and prods from Yeltsin.

With START III on hold, nuclear nonproliferation is likely to take top priority on the American side of the summit agenda. In particular, Clinton probably will press U.S. demands for tougher action to keep missile technology and nuclear materials out of Iranian hands.

The U.S. emphasis on Iran is irritating to more than a few Russians, who consider the country a neighbor and longtime ally.

``Your relations with Iran are your affair,″ Khromov says. ``For our part, we are categorically against condemning all forms of cooperation with Iran.″

One reason is that nuclear technology is one of Russia’s few exports, and the government is desperate for cash. The Russians are helping Iran build a nuclear power plant at Bushehr in a deal said to be worth about $800 million. The United States fears the plant could help Iran develop its potential to make nuclear weapons, a worry the Russians say is groundless.

The Glavkosmos case is different. The company is a state-owned firm that negotiates sales of Russian space technology such as solar batteries and rockets. Based on reports from the Russian government, the United States suspects Glavkosmos arranges deals to sell missile technology to Iran.

Anxiety about such sales deepened recently when Iran successfully tested a missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead as far as Israel. Analysts agree the technology was supplied by North Korea, but the incident heightened fears that Iran will increasingly seek such technology from Russia.

Russia has tight export controls on the books, and Glavkosmos says its contracts with Iran have been reviewed and approved by the Russian government.

While he won’t give details, Khromov insists, ``You can’t use the word `missile’ in connection with any of our contracts with Iran.″

Even simple items can be turned to military uses, however, and it often can be extremely difficult to determine if a given purchase is purely civilian in intent.

Khromov gives an example. Glavkosmos sold desalinization equipment to Iran, presumably to help them produce drinking water in desert communities.

``Is it possible that soldiers at a missile site could drink this water? It’s possible,″ Khromov says. ``Is that a violation? Often you can’t find hard boundaries between what’s permitted and what’s forbidden.″

Analysts say U.S. sanctions are unlikely to have much effect on Russia, although they may be a deterrent to the many European companies eager to deal with the Iranians.

``It won’t stop the trade, and I don’t think the administration thought for a moment that it would,″ said Terry Taylor of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. ``But it does send a warning to companies in Britain, Germany, France and elsewhere.″

In the meantime, the United States intends to keep the pressure on the Russians.

After all, Taylor asks, ``What’s the alternative?″

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