"No one can solve this problem alone, but together we can change things for the better." 

– Setsuko Thurlow
Hiroshima Survivor
June 6, 2016

Iran-Libya Sanctions Act Renewed

President George W. Bush signed a bill August 3 to renew the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA) for five years.

Set to expire August 5, five years after it became law, ILSA seeks to punish entities for investing in Iranian or Libyan petroleum industries, aiming to prevent Tehran or Tripoli from gaining petroleum profits that could be used to develop or acquire weapons of mass destruction or to finance terrorism.

The law requires the United States to impose sanctions on foreign companies that invest over $20 million per year in Iranian oil or gas development. Entities investing over $40 million per year in Libyan oil or gas development would also be sanctioned. The new extension law reduces this cap on investment in Libya to $20 million.

The administration had appealed for a two-year reauthorization of the act, largely to give it flexibility as it embarks on a broad review of U.S. sanctions policy. But Congress overwhelming approved the five-year extension in July and did not provide a mechanism for adjusting or reassessing the sanctions. The extension, however, allows the administration to report to Congress on the sanction's effectiveness, and it retains provisions of the original law that grant the president the right to waive sanctions.

No sanctions have ever been imposed under ILSA since it took effect in 1996, despite major violations by French, Malaysian, Russian, and Italian entities.

Russia Permits Aluminum Shipment to Iran

Reports emerged in mid-June that Russia had allowed an unknown quantity of high-strength aluminum to be shipped to Iran earlier this year. The shipment is of potential concern because certain special aluminum alloys can be used in high-speed gas centrifuges to produce enriched uranium, and the United States has long been concerned that Moscow’s nuclear energy ties with Teheran may be facilitating a clandestine Iranian nuclear weapons program.

According to The Washington Post, which first reported the shipment June 15, the United States and Israel alerted the Russian government to the shipment in late January; however, Russian inspectors who boarded the vessel reported that the aluminum was to be used in “aircraft manufacture” and allowed the ship to proceed to Iran. In a June 17 interview with Fox News Sunday, Secretary of State Colin Powell responded with skepticism to Russia’s assertions that the aluminum was intended for aircraft. “That’s what they say,” he said. “We have slightly different view.”

President George W. Bush raised the issue of Iran’s nuclear weapons and missile programs at his June 16 meeting in Slovenia with Russian President Vladimir Putin. After the meeting, Putin acknowledged that he had discussed Iran with Bush, but in a June 18 interview with U.S. journalists, he maintained that there are no Russian programs to help Tehran produce nuclear weapons or missiles. Putin also defended Russia’s nuclear energy ties with Iran, comparing them to U.S. plans to build a light-water reactor in North Korea under the 1994 Agreed Framework. He also said that Moscow would do its best to stop any Russian entities trying to assist Iran’s nuclear weapons programs.

Aluminum alloys have many industrial and military uses, but the transfer of certain aluminum alloys is regulated by the Nuclear Suppliers Group—a group of 34 countries, including Russia, that have agreed to restrict the export of nuclear and dual-use equipment that could be used in connection with the manufacture of nuclear weapons.

Putin Reaffirms Arms Sales, Nuclear Assistance to Iran

Wade Boese

Hosting a visit by Iranian President Mohammad Khatami on March 12, Russian President Vladimir Putin reaffirmed that Russia would pursue new arms sales to Iran and complete construction of a nuclear power plant at Bushehr. Long critical of Moscow's relations with Tehran, Washington immediately expressed concern and warned Russia that selling advanced weapons and technologies to Iran could jeopardize better relations with the United States.

Early last November, the Kremlin notified the United States that on December 1 Russia would withdraw from a June 1995 agreement to end arms sales to Iran. Russia had not strictly adhered to the agreement, selling an estimated $200 million in weapons to Iran between 1996 and 1999, according to the Congressional Research Service. Nevertheless, the State Department believes the agreement succeeded in limiting Russian arms deals during the period, and it opposes Russia's abrogation of its commitment.

Russia and Iran did not finalize any specific weapons contracts during Khatami's four-day visit to Russia, but deals may be signed later this spring or early summer. The two sides did sign a number of agreements, including a Treaty on the Foundations of Mutual Relations and the Principles of Cooperation, aimed at expanding bilateral relations and trade.

Putin and other senior Russian officials have said only defensive weapons will be sold to Iran, but State Department spokesman Richard Boucher noted on March 12 that Moscow has not been "quite clear" on what qualifies as defensive weaponry. Russian and Iranian press reports suggest that tanks, armored combat vehicles, fighter aircraft, helicopters, shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles, and advanced S-300 air defense systems may all be on Iran's shopping list, though it remains unclear whether Iran could afford to purchase that amount of weaponry.

Putin justified the potential deals on March 12, stating that "Iran has the right to ensure its security and defense capability" and explaining that Russia has "economic reasons" for making such sales. Since assuming the Russian presidency, Putin has pushed to increase Russian revenue from weapons sales by trying to revive sales to old Soviet clients and seeking new arms markets and by reducing competition between Russian arms companies, which had been driving Russian weapons prices down.

Testifying before the Senate Budget Committee on March 14, Secretary of State Colin Powell implied that, if it wants improved relations with the United States, Russia should rethink to whom it sells arms. "It would not be wise to invest in regimes that are not following accepted standards of international behavior," Powell declared. The U.S. government classifies Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism and believes Iran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons despite its legal obligation not to under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Depending on what types of arms Russia sells Iran, it could engender more than just ill will from Washington. The 1992 Iran-Iraq Arms Non-Proliferation Act calls on the United States to impose sanctions on countries supplying "destabilizing numbers and types of advanced conventional weapons" to either Baghdad or Tehran. Other U.S. legislation prohibits U.S. foreign assistance funds from being sent to countries that deliver "lethal military equipment" to states sponsoring terrorism. A March 16 bipartisan letter to President George W. Bush from 29 U.S. representatives reminded him of this latter legislation and asserted that the results of Russia's March 12 meeting with Iran "warrants the immediate attention of the United States and requires appropriate, significant action."

Not directly related to Putin's visit with Khatami, on March 13 President Bush declared a national emergency with respect to Iran, an action necessary for keeping U.S. sanctions in place that have been mandated by executive orders. The national emergency expires every year on March 15, requiring an executive extension. Bush, according to a White House statement, extended the emergency because Iranian actions and policies "continue to threaten the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States."

Although much of the recent U.S. criticism focused largely on Russia's almost certain future arms sales to Iran, Boucher added on March 13 that the United States did not think Russian cooperation with Iran in the nuclear sphere is "well advised." Russia has a contract to complete a nuclear reactor at Bushehr, and Putin stated that Moscow would finish the project even though work has been delayed, a holdup he attributed to "sluggishness on both the Iranian and Russian side." The reactor is scheduled to be completed in 2003.

Putin stressed that Russia's nuclear cooperation with Iran is conducted "in accordance with the rules of [the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)] and under its control." The IAEA is responsible for verifying that nuclear facilities and materials under its supervision are not used or diverted for weapons purposes.

Iran also reportedly again raised its interest in a second reactor for the same site after Russia finishes work on the current one. Putin may have alluded to Iran's plans during his March 12 remarks when he noted Tehran "has plans for expanding its nuclear power industry, and the Russian Federation, in accordance with international rules, is interested and willing to take part in the appropriate tenders for participation in this work."

Russian Arms and Technology Transfers to Iran:Policy Challenges for the United States

Michael Eisenstadt

In the past decade, Russia has become Iran's main source of advanced conventional arms, an alleged supplier of know-how and technology for its ballistic missile and chemical and biological warfare programs, and its sole source of civilian nuclear technology. Despite sustained U.S. efforts to halt these transfers, they continue, raising unsettling questions about Moscow's intentions, the depth of its commitment to arms control, and the future of U.S.-Russian relations. How the United States deals with this challenge could have far-reaching implications for the stability of the Middle East and the fate of the international non-proliferation regime.

Iran has been seeking to enhance its military capabilities for more than a decade now, in an attempt to increase self-reliance, strengthen deterrence, and achieve the status and influence that it believes is its due. Self-reliance in all areas of national life—but particularly in the military sphere—is a fundamental tenet of Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution. Thus, Iran has built up its military-industrial base to reduce its reliance on foreign arms suppliers and increase its military potential. Iran also wants to be able to deter potential threats from Iraq, the United States, Israel, and, more recently, Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Afghanistan. Finally, Tehran's efforts to modernize its armed forces and acquire weapons of mass destruction are driven by a desire to bridge the gap between its military weakness and its image of itself as a regional power and the standard bearer of revolutionary Islam. To these ends, Tehran has turned to Russia—the only country that can provide it with arms in the quantity and the quality that it desires.

The security relationship forged by Russia and Iran over the past decade is something of an historical anomaly—the two nations have traditionally viewed each other with suspicion. In the 19th century, imperial Russia dominated Persia, annexing territories that had historically belonged to the Persian empire, and with Great Britain conspired to divide the country into spheres of influence. Soviet policy, though generally cautious, was not completely free of such imperial impulses, but with the onset of the Cold War, relations with Iran improved somewhat. Trade increased, and Iran even bought small quantities of arms from the Soviet Union. However, following Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution, relations grew strained. The Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini—who reviled both the Soviet Union and the United States—pursued a foreign policy of "neither East nor West" that put Moscow at arms length. For its part, Moscow feared that Tehran would export its Islamic revolution to the Muslims of the Soviet Union.

In June 1989, within weeks of the Ayatollah Khomeini's death, the then-speaker of Iran's parliament, Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, visited Moscow, opening a new chapter in relations with the Soviet Union. After pledging non-interference in each other's domestic affairs (allaying Soviet concerns about the export of Tehran's brand of radical Islam to the Muslim Soviet republics), the two sides negotiated a major arms deal and agreements on trade, economic, and scientific-technical cooperation (including the "peaceful use of atomic energy").

In the decade that followed, Moscow and Tehran frequently found themselves on the same side of various issues of common concern. When this was not the case, they nonetheless proved able to work through their differences. Throughout this period, Tehran tread softly in areas of concern to Moscow, repeatedly deferring to Russian sensibilities in the Caucasus and Central Asia. In particular, Iran's restrained response to Moscow's bloody suppression of a Muslim separatist movement in Chechnya underscored, for Russian policy-makers, the relatively benign thrust of Iranian policy in Russia's backyard.

Thus, a de facto alliance emerged. Moscow came to see Iran as a responsible partner in the pursuit of stability in the Caucasus and Central Asia; a potentially lucrative market for arms and technology produced by its still massive, but cash-starved, military-industrial complex (especially important after Iraq—a major customer—was subjected to a UN arms embargo following its August 1990 invasion of Kuwait); a means by which to continue to exert some influence in the Middle East; and an ally in the fight against American "hegemony." Conversely, Tehran came to see Russia—still a key actor on the international stage, if no longer a superpower—as a partner to its efforts to break out of its international isolation; a reliable source of arms and advanced technology for its armed forces; and an ally in its efforts to counter U.S. influence in the Caucasus, Central Asia, and the Persian Gulf. To be sure, the interests of Russia and Iran are not identical, but their shared interests have consistently outweighed their relatively minor policy differences.

However, for both parties, cooperation is driven as much by fear and mistrust as it is by opportunism and shared interests. Moscow sees arms and technology transfers as a means of securing a foothold in Iran—to ensure that the relationship will survive a rapprochement between Tehran and Washington—and as an insurance policy against Iranian meddling in the Caucasus, Central Asia, and perhaps among Russia's own Muslim population. Ironically, Tehran may see the missiles it is developing with Russian help as a source of leverage over Moscow in the event of a return to the hostility that has historically characterized relations between the two sides. For both sides, cooperation is at least in part a means to neutralize the latent threat posed by a former (and perhaps future) adversary by creating a shared stake in good relations.

Russia's arms and technology transfers to Iran have created diplomatic and security headaches for Washington, as Tehran develops some fairly sophisticated military niche-capabilities and builds ballistic missiles armed with weapons of mass destruction (WMD) that threaten U.S. interests and allies in the region. Even more troubling for Washington, it has been able to do very little about it and its options seem limited.

Conventional Arms

Under the Shah, Iran depended on the United States and the United Kingdom for nearly all its arms. Following the 1979 revolution and the subsequent seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran, relations soured, and the United States halted all arms sales to Iran. In September 1980, Iraq invaded Iran, sparking a bloody, eight-year war. To avert an Iranian victory that could have had a destabilizing impact on the region, in 1983 Washington organized an international arms embargo on Iran that greatly complicated Iran's efforts to replace its wartime losses and sustain its war effort. As a result, Iran emerged from the war greatly weakened, much of its military inventory having been destroyed or captured.

In 1989, Iran launched an ambitious effort to rebuild its war-ravaged armed forces and transform itself into a regional military power. Its military wish list reportedly included 100-200 combat aircraft; 1,000-2,000 armored vehicles; several submarines; and as many as a dozen missile boats. The United States regarded Tehran as a source of instability in a region of vital strategic importance and was alarmed by the magnitude of the purchases Iran was reportedly contemplating. Accordingly, Washington urged its allies to continue honoring the ban on arms sales to Iran imposed during the Iran-Iraq War. Of the major suppliers, only Beijing and Moscow were willing to sell large numbers of conventional arms to Iran, and only the latter could provide many of the modern arms Tehran desired.1

The first major arms agreement between Iran and the Soviet Union, which provided the basis for several future arms contracts, was negotiated during Rafsanjani's June 1989 visit to Moscow.2 Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia inherited these contracts but implemented them only in part as a result of disagreements with Tehran over the Soviet debt and Iran's financial problems. Short of money and with Russia insisting on cash payments, Tehran could afford to buy only a fraction of what it had hoped to acquire.

U.S. concerns about the impact of these potentially large arms transfers on Persian Gulf stability led the United States to press Russia to put a halt to them. Russian President Boris Yeltsin pledged to do so in September 1994; this commitment was formalized in an agreement between Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and U.S. Vice President Al Gore in June 1995, in which Russia promised it would fulfill existing contracts by the end of 1999 and would not sign any new ones. Russia's embrace of this commitment was facilitated by the fact that Iran lacked the funds to pay for several of the contracts it had already signed. What funds it did have were apparently spent mainly on missiles and the means to produce weapons of mass destruction (much of it in Russia).

Major Russian weapons systems transferred in the decade following the 1989 arms deal included 422 T-72 tanks, 413 BMP-2 infantry fighting vehicles, and self-propelled artillery; SA-5 and SA-6 surface-to-air missiles (SAMs); 12 Su-24 and 24 MiG-29 fighters; and three Kilo-class submarines, along with advanced torpedoes and mines. Most of these items were transferred in the early- to mid-1990s.3 Of these, the transfer of the Kilo-class submarines and advanced torpedoes and mines caused the greatest concern to Washington. These systems enhanced Iran's sea-denial capability in the Persian Gulf region and enable Tehran to threaten the flow of the 20 percent of the world's oil that passes through the Strait of Hormuz.

Notwithstanding the Gore-Cherno-myrdin agreement regarding conventional arms transfers, Russian and Iranian officials reportedly met in early 1997 to discuss new arms deals. These supposedly involved the possible sale of eight Su-25 attack aircraft; 25 Mi-17 transport helicopters; hundreds of T-72 tanks; 500-1,000 SA-16/18 Igla shoulder-launched SAMs; several battalions of SA-10 and SA-12 SAMs; air-surveillance radars; and several other items.4 Five Mi-17s were indeed eventually transferred to Iran starting in January 20005 (in contravention of the 1995 Gore-Chernomyrdin agreement), while in November 2000, an Israeli newspaper reported the imminent departure of a shipment of 700 SA-16/18 Igla missiles for Iran; it is not clear whether this transfer actually occurred.6

These recent transfers may be a sign of things to come. Iran's economic situation has improved somewhat in the past year, thanks to a disciplined and sustained effort to repay its short-term debt obligations and the recent turnaround of world oil prices. This has allowed for a 50 percent increase in the Iranian defense budget in 2000-2001 over the previous Iranian fiscal year.7 Russia's decision to inform the United States in November 2000 that it considered the Gore-Chernomyrdin agreement null and void may harbinger major new conventional arms deals. Indeed, last December, at the conclusion of Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev's visit to Iran (the first of its kind since the 1979 revolution), he declared that Russia and Iran had concluded a "new phase of military and technical cooperation."8

Ballistic Missiles

The Iran-Iraq War convinced Iran's clerical leadership that an indigenous missile production capability and a strong missile force were essential to the country's security. Several times during the war, Iran exhausted its supply of missiles, in large part because North Korea—its principal supplier—was often unable to keep up with demand. Daily missile strikes on Tehran toward the end of the war had a particularly devastating effect on Iran's morale; more than a quarter of the city's population fled to the countryside each night, contributing to Iran's decision to seek an end to the war in the summer of 1988. The 1991 Persian Gulf War further underscored the survivability of mobile missiles and their growing importance in modern warfare. As a result, Iran has sought the capability to produce everything from short-range to intercontinental systems.

The backbone of Iran's strategic missile force consists of 300 Shahab-1 missiles (North Korean Scud-Bs, with a range of 320 kilometers); 100 Shahab-2 missiles (North Korean Scud-Cs, with a range of 500 kilometers); a handful of Shahab-3 missiles (a locally produced version of the North Korean Nodong-1 with some Russian content and a range of 1,300 kilometers); and some 200 Chinese CSS-8 missiles (SA-2 surface-to-air missiles modified for ground-to-ground use, with a range of 150 kilometers). Some of these may be armed with chemical and perhaps biological warheads.

Iran is also reportedly working on a Shahab-4 missile, which it claims is a satellite-launch vehicle (reportedly based on the Soviet SS-4, it is said to have a range of 2,000 kilometers), and a Shahab-5 (reportedly still in the concept phase, with an estimated range of 5,000-10,000 kilometers). Iran's missiles can reach major population centers in Israel, Turkey, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia, and the smaller Arab Gulf states.

Iran's efforts to develop an indigenous missile production capability date to the mid-1980s. However, it has experienced major problems and delays in its efforts to achieve self-sufficiency, due to shortages of funds, special materials, key production technologies, and highly trained personnel—particularly skilled managers capable of overseeing large, complex projects. As a result, it has had to lean heavily on North Korea, China, and Russia for assistance.9 Iran can now produce Shahab-1 and -2 missiles on its own, and it is in the final stages of developing the Shahab-3. To date it has conducted three Shahab-3 flight tests (in July 1998, July 2000, and September 2000), though only the second is believed to have been a success.

Since 1994-1995, various Russian individuals and entities have been assisting Iran's missile programs. After obtaining convincing evidence of these activities in early 1997, Washington began pressing Moscow to stop the flow of missile know-how and technology to Iran. Since early 1997, U.S. and Russian officials have met numerous times to discuss this issue.

However, progress has been limited and often short-lived. From mid-1997 through mid-1998, these efforts yielded positive results: a significant decrease in the transfer of know-how and technology, accompanied by a dramatic strengthening of Russian export controls with the issuing of a Russian executive decree in January 1998 and the passing of implementing legislation in May of that year. By mid-1998, however, assistance to Iran's missile programs resumed.

The United States responded by sanctioning a total of eight Russian entities that had allegedly aided Iran's missile program (seven in July 1998 and one in January 1999), though many had no business dealings with the United States and were therefore unaffected by the sanctions. Nonetheless, many of the major firms involved early on in the transfer of know-how and technology are believed to have halted such activities, though they have apparently been replaced by smaller companies and individuals providing mainly technical assistance, according to a U.S. government official. On February 7, CIA Director George Tenet testified to the Senate that "the transfer of ballistic missile technology from Russia to Iran" in 2000 "was substantial and...will continue to accelerate Iranian efforts to develop new missiles and to become self-sufficient in production."

Ambassador Robert Gallucci, who represented the United States in talks with Russia on this topic, has written, "The assistance in question is sometimes material shipped from a Russian entity to Iran that may be used for parts of a ballistic missile, maybe for the warhead, maybe for the fuselage. Sometimes components are shipped that may have to do with guidance. These entities have also been training Iranians in Russia in the development, design and manufacture of ballistic missiles." According to Gallucci, Russian assistance was "extremely important in shortening the amount of time in which the Iranians would be able to develop, manufacture and deploy their own MRBMs [medium-range ballistic missiles]," and he says that Russian assistance will speed the deployment of the Shahab-3 and the development of longer-range missiles.10

The Shahab-3—and to a much greater extent, the Shahab-4—remain dependent on technology transfers from North Korea and Russia. For instance, North Korean and Russian entities may produce critical engine components for the Shahab-3 and Shahab-4, respectively, that Iran is currently unable to produce on its own.11 The Shahab-3 is expected to enter operational service soon, and a cutoff of Russian aid is unlikely to halt the deployment of this missile, though it could hinder efforts to upgrade the basic model. A cutoff could, however, have a decisive impact on the Shahab-4 and -5. Continued Russian assistance will also be crucial should Iran choose to incorporate penetration aids on its missiles, as the expertise and experience necessary for the design and development of anything more than the most rudimentary countermeasures against missile defenses probably is beyond the means of Iran's scientific-technical community.

From Iran's perspective, the Shahab-3 (and subsequently the Shahab-4) will provide a variety of new capabilities. The Shahab-3 will enable Iran to target Israel, Turkey, and Egypt, and in the now-unlikely event of an U.S.-Iranian confrontation, the knowledge that they are within range of Iranian missiles could influence decision-makers in Cairo and Ankara during a crisis. Moreover, U.S. missile defenses could have problems intercepting a Shahab-3 flying a depressed or lofted trajectory against targets in the Gulf region. Likewise, the Shahab-4, if and when it becomes operational, will be capable of flying depressed or lofted trajectories against Israel, Turkey, and Egypt, complicating the defense of these countries, and it will be able to reach southern Europe by following an optimal minimum energy trajectory. Finally, due to their greater range, Iran will be able to launch these missiles from more secure launch sites in the interior of the country, thus complicating efforts to locate and destroy the missiles before launch.

For now, however, the main value of these missiles is political. They serve as a symbolic surrogate for the non-conventional capabilities that Iran possesses, but cannot brandish, due to its arms control commitments. Moreover, the fact that Iran possesses missiles capable of hitting targets throughout the region will alter the risk calculus of potential adversaries. While these missiles are of uncertain reliability and accuracy, most adversaries will likely assume that the Iranian missiles will perform in wartime as intended, as the potential price of being wrong will be too great. Adversary decision-makers will therefore act with appropriate caution. As Iranian Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani has stated, the Shahab-3 provides Iran with a "real deterrent punch."12

Chemical and Biological Warfare

Iran's chemical and biological warfare programs were initiated in the mid-1980s in response to Iraq's extensive use of chemical weapons (CW) during the Iran-Iraq War. An estimated 50,000-100,000 Iranians were injured and 5,000-10,000 were killed as a result of Iraqi CW use. Moreover, there is reason to believe that, had the war continued, Iraq would have used CW against Iranian civilian population centers and biological weapons (BW) against its water supplies. This experience, compounded by the apathetic international response to Iraqi CW use, has left deep wounds in the Iranian national psyche. As a result, Iran has devoted significant resources to its chemical and biological weapons (CBW) capabilities, to serve as a deterrent and to provide it with the means to respond in kind to CBW threats.

Iran is believed to have stockpiled several hundred tons of chemical agent in bulk and weaponized form, including nerve, blister, choking, and blood agents. It produces bombs and artillery rounds filled with these agents and probably has deployed chemical missile warheads. Less is known about its biological warfare program, although according to published intelligence assessments, Iran has probably produced small quantities of BW agent; some of this may have been weaponized.

Russian individuals and entities have reportedly assisted Iran's chemical and biological warfare programs. According to Tenet's February testimony, "Russian entities are a significant source of dual-use biotechnology, chemicals, production technology, and equipment for Iran. Russian biological and chemical expertise is sought by Iranians and others seeking information and training on BW- and CW-agent production processes."

Beyond this statement, there is little if any additional information in the public domain concerning Russian assistance to Iran's CW effort, though there have been a number of credible published reports concerning Russian assistance to Iran's BW program. Iran has been described by Russian BW researchers as the country most aggressively recruiting scientists from Russia's vast, crumbling biological warfare complex. These efforts reportedly began shortly after the 1991 Persian Gulf War, and according to one report, Iran has succeeded in luring at least five scientists to work in Iran, signing arrangements with others that allow them to conduct research for Iran while remaining in Russia. The Iranians have reportedly shown special interest in infectious diseases, anti-crop and anti-animal agents, and genetic engineering techniques. However, because so little is known about Iran's BW program, it is not possible to assess the impact of whatever assistance may have been rendered by Russian scientists.13

Civilian Nuclear Technology

According to public U.S. intelligence assessments, Iran is pursuing the acquisition of nuclear weapons despite the fact that it is a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). It is worth noting that Russian intelligence assessments dating from the mid-1990s (the last time such assessments were published) are basically in accord with U.S. judgment.14 However, Russian officials categorically deny that the civilian nuclear technology they are providing Iran could aid an effort to build nuclear weapons.

Iran's nuclear program dates to the era of the Shah, who initiated efforts in the civilian as well as the military spheres. Both were shelved following the 1979 Islamic Revolution, but in 1984 Tehran revived the civilian program and with it the Islamic Republic's nuclear ambitions. For nearly a decade and a half, Iran has been trying to acquire materials and civilian nuclear fuel-cycle technologies that could be of use to a clandestine nuclear weapons program, including fuel fabrication and reprocessing capabilities from Argentina; research reactors from Argentina, India, China, and Russia; nuclear power plants from Russia and China; gas centrifuge technology from Switzerland and Germany and a gas centrifuge enrichment plant from Russia; a uranium conversion plant from China or Russia; and a laser isotope separator from Russia that can be used for enrichment.

Thanks to Iran's financial woes and a sustained U.S. effort to deny Tehran access to nuclear technology, Iran has had little success in building up its declared civilian nuclear infrastructure, though its efforts to acquire fuel-cycle-related facilities will undoubtedly continue. Iran has also been seeking materials and components that could be used to build nuclear weapons. In 1992, Iran apparently tried (unsuccessfully) to acquire a cache of highly enriched uranium from a facility in Kazakhstan; its agents have reportedly continued shopping for fissile material on the black market since then. In 1998, Iran reportedly acquired some tritium, which is used to build boosted weapons, from Russia, while in 1999 an Iranian living in Sweden was caught trying to smuggle thyratron tubes to Iran.15

The centerpiece of Iran's overt nuclear effort is its civilian nuclear power program, run by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI). As a first step toward realizing its long-term goal of relying on nuclear power for 20 percent of the country's electricity needs, Iran intends to complete the unfinished German nuclear power plant begun in Bushehr in 1975 but halted by the 1979 revolution. In August 1992, Moscow agreed to finish the Bushehr power plant, and in January 1995, as part of a broader nuclear cooperation accord concluded at that time, Russia signed a contract to install one VVER-1000 reactor in Bushehr for a cost of $800 million and to train Iranian personnel and provide low-enriched uranium fuel to run it. Washington unsuccessfully lobbied Moscow to cancel the reactor deal (though Moscow eventually agreed to take back the fuel for reprocessing). The United States did, however, succeed in persuading firms in the Ukraine and the Czech Republic not to supply components to the reactor, thus complicating Russian efforts to complete the power plant at Bushehr.

The Bushehr reactor has faced several other major obstacles, including questions about the structural integrity of the original foundation and containment structure (which was bombed during the Iran-Iraq War and exposed to the elements for many years), the viability of installing Russian reactor hardware into structures configured for German components, and Iran's financial problems. These problems have delayed the program; initially slated to be completed by 1999, the first VVER-1000 at Bushehr is not expected to be finished before 2003. Iran and Russia have also discussed the construction of two or three VVER-440/213 reactors and an additional VVER-1000 at Bushehr. Russian Atomic Energy Minister Yevgeniy Adamov announced in January of this year that his ministry is starting work on a "feasibility study" for at least one of these.

U.S. officials claim that Iran's interest in nuclear power is driven—in large part—by a desire to gain access to Russia's vast nuclear complex in order to facilitate the acquisition of know-how, technology, and materials for its clandestine nuclear weapons program. However, while objecting to Russian assistance to Bushehr, they downplay its significance as a source of plutonium for a clandestine weapons program since the fissile material there would be safeguarded and Iran would probably use Bushehr to burnish its bona fides as an NPT signatory in good standing.

But should an Iraqi nuclear breakout or a crisis cause Iran to violate or withdraw from the NPT, the presence of large quantities of spent fuel at Bushehr would pose an acute proliferation risk. Experience in Iraq in 1990 and North Korea in 1993 shows that states will violate their NPT commitments or withdraw from the treaty when they believe their vital interests require them to do so. Officials from Russia's Ministry of Atomic Energy scoff at the idea that reactor-grade plutonium could be used to build a bomb, but in 1962 the United States successfully tested a bomb using reactor-grade plutonium to see if it could be done.

The Bushehr reactor is not the only element of Russian-Iranian nuclear cooperation to which U.S. officials have objected. As part of the January 1995 nuclear cooperation accord, Russia also offered Iran 2,000 tons of natural uranium, help establishing a uranium mine, low-power (less than 1 megawatt) training reactors, a gas centrifuge enrichment plant, an option to purchase a 30-50 megawatt light-water research reactor, an APWS-40 nuclear-powered desalinization plant, and training for 10-20 AEOI employees annually (at the graduate student and Ph.D. level).

The United States was particularly concerned with the offer of a gas centrifuge enrichment plant and research reactor, which it believed could greatly assist an Iranian nuclear weapons program. During a May 1995 U.S.-Russia presidential summit in Moscow, Russia agreed to drop all components of the agreement not directly connected to the Bushehr power plant. This commitment was formalized during a December 1995 meeting between Vice President Gore and Prime Minister Chernomyrdin.

In recent years, various Russian entities have held negotiations with Iran concerning the transfer of dual-use fuel-cycle-related technologies, including heavy-water research reactors, uranium conversion plants, and most recently, a laser isotope separator. Two entities allegedly involved in such talks—NIKIET and the Mendeleyev University of Chemical Technology—were sanctioned by the U.S. government in January 1999. Moscow argues that, because Iran is a member of the NPT in good standing, it should not be denied nuclear fuel-cycle-related technology. Due to U.S. pressure, Russia has agreed not to go forward with these deals—at least for now. However, because Iran is a potentially lucrative customer for Russia's Ministry of Atomic Energy, it is unlikely that Russia has abandoned efforts to sell fuel-cycle-related technology to Iran.

Indeed, in recent Senate testimony, Assistant Secretary of State for Nonproliferation Robert Einhorn stated that, despite Moscow's promises, many government-affiliated entities have continued "extensive cooperation" with Iran on nuclear projects beyond the Bushehr plant and that this assistance "has accelerated in the last few years." According to Einhorn, "Much of this assistance involves technologies with direct application to the production of weapons-grade fissile materials…and could significantly shorten the time Iran would need to acquire weapons-usable fissile material."

As Iran's sole supplier of nuclear technology, Russian assistance remains crucial to Iran's efforts to acquire nuclear weapons. Russia could aid this process by transferring to Iran technologies used to produce fissile material or by unwittingly allowing Iranian agents the access needed to acquire fissile materials diverted from Russia's massive nuclear complex.

Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons would have a dramatic impact on the strategic environment in the Middle East by altering the regional balance of power and encouraging further proliferation in the region and beyond. An Iranian nuclear breakout would also undermine international non-proliferation norms, put U.S. forces in the region at risk, and pose a direct threat to U.S. friends and allies. For these reasons, preventing such an eventuality is a critical U.S. interest.

What to Do?

Russian arms and technology transfers to Iran are among the most serious proliferation challenges facing the United States today. While Russia's conventional arms transfers and assistance to Iran's civilian nuclear program do not violate any international non-proliferation regime, at least some of its arms transfers (advanced naval mines, torpedoes, and Kilo-class submarines) and most of its activities in the nuclear arena seem imprudent—to say the least. And in aiding Iran's civilian nuclear program, Russia is violating a broad international norm, as it is the only country in the world now engaged in open-ended nuclear cooperation with Iran.16

Russian aid to Iran's missile and CBW programs, however, would clearly violate various international arms control regimes. Some of the aid in the CBW arena involves the transfer of dual-use materials and technologies, but there are indications that more sinister dealings are taking place, including the recruitment of scientists from Russia's massive BW complex. But it is unclear whether the activities of these scientists are officially sanctioned.

On the other hand, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that assistance to Iran's ballistic missile program occurs, by and large, as a matter of policy. This has been going on for more than five years now, and, while U.S. pressure may have at one time caused a temporary cessation of activities and caused some individuals and entities to cease cooperating with Iran, other individuals and entities have come forward to take their place; the assistance continues unabated. Furthermore, reports (in both the Russian and Western press) that the Russian Security Service has facilitated at least some transfers of missile know-how and technology strengthens the impression that there is official support for these activities.

The occasional zigzags in Russian policy regarding arms and technology transfers to Iran may be due to a number of factors, including the twists and turns of politics in Moscow; delight in occasionally sticking a finger in Washington's eye; U.S. pressure and a desire not to imperil ties with Washington; Iranian counter-pressure and a desire not to imperil ties with Tehran; and the temptation to profit from its tremendous investment in its military-industrial complex while avoiding blatant violations of its various arms control commitments.

The most powerful explanation for these arms and technology transfers is that they serve a number of key Russian interests. They provide an income stream for the cash-starved military-industrial complex, avert Iranian meddling in Russia's domestic affairs and its near-abroad, and build up Iran as a limiting force on America's global power. These are arguments that both bureaucrats in Moscow and underpaid scientists employed by state-funded institutes can agree on. And they are powerful rationalizations for scientists who may independently sell their services to Iran. Certainly, the political and economic environment in Russia today is conducive to such activities.

To be sure, the policy of transferring arms and technology to Iran does not enjoy unanimous support in Moscow. Some fear that Iran's missile and WMD programs have the potential to someday threaten Russian interests—perhaps even Russia itself. But supporters of the policy apparently reason that arms and technology transfers may be the best way to forestall a deterioration in relations with Tehran;17 that Iranians are anyhow incapable of building long-range missiles and nuclear weapons; and that, even if they succeed, Russia would retain overwhelming strategic superiority that would be sufficient to deter threats from a distant, hostile Iran. Though Russia is hardly the first country to use arms and technology transfers as part of a policy of engagement vis-à-vis former adversaries, Moscow is playing a high-risk version of this game. It remains to be seen whether this gambit will succeed.

Several policy implications flow from this assessment. First, because Moscow provides arms and technology to Tehran not just to earn cash, but also to advance important security interests, Russia seems unlikely to halt its arms and technology transfers to Iran in response to economic sanctions or inducements of the kind that have been considered to date (e.g., sanctioning Russian entities involved in proliferation, threatening funding to the International Space Station, or lowering or raising quotas for Russian commercial space launches). Furthermore, Washington's willingness to take stricter steps—should it be decided that this is what is needed—will depend, in part, on the general trajectory of U.S.-Russian relations as set by Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin in the coming months.

Second, experience shows that publicity, persistent pressure, and high-level attention can yield modest results. Here, timely leaks that highlight irresponsible Russian actions, accurate and timely intelligence that facilitates preventive diplomacy, and a good working relationship between U.S. and Russian leaders, combined with sustained interest and involvement on the part of the American president, are critical to success.

Finally, while U.S.-Russian cooperative security programs will not halt purposeful technology transfers to Iran or others, they can still protect against unauthorized diversions by proliferators. Thus, U.S. funding for these programs should not be cut in order to "punish" Russia for its arms and technology transfers to Iran, as has been suggested by some in Washington; these programs remain in the U.S. interest, though funding should certainly not go to entities or firms that wittingly assist proliferators such as Iran.

U.S. options vis-à-vis Iran are also rather limited. Tehran is unlikely to agree to curb conventional arms purchases (given the relatively small size and limited capabilities of its armed forces) or abandon efforts to build a robust missile force, which constitutes the backbone of its strategic deterrent and is not limited by any arms control regimes to which Iran is party. As for weapons of mass destruction, Iran denies that it is engaged in any activities proscribed by the various treaties it is party to (the Chemical Weapons Convention, the Biological Weapons Convention, and the NPT).

Iran's motives for acquiring missiles and WMD are varied and complex. Its quest for self-reliance and regional influence are partly rooted in the values of the Islamic Republic and thus will not be easily altered. Tehran's clerical leadership seems relatively united in its desire to acquire WMD, and, while some reformers may be concerned about the impact of such policies on Iran's foreign relations and economy, their hard-line conservative opponents are currently on top in Tehran. It will not be possible to explore the possibility of a "grand bargain" with Iran regarding its WMD programs until domestic political alignments in Tehran change and U.S. and Iranian representatives can sit down together to discuss these issues. This is unlikely to happen anytime soon, but, in the meantime, steps such as people-to-people contacts and track-two diplomacy should be taken to facilitate an eventual resumption of official contacts.18

U.S. policy toward Iran has scored one unambiguous achievement: it has succeeded in imposing significant costs and delays on Iran's efforts to build up its conventional, missile, and WMD capabilities through such traditional tools as export controls, demarches, arm-twisting, and economic sanctions. It has thwarted several major conventional arms deals and countless smaller ones. It has cut off Iran from Western arms and technology sources, forcing it to rely on less-advanced suppliers, such as North Korea, China, and Russia. U.S. efforts were also instrumental in thwarting a large number of prospective deals concerning technologies useful for the development of WMD—particularly in the civilian nuclear arena. Due in large part to U.S. prompting in the 1980s, U.S. allies in Europe have imposed tight restrictions on the transfer of many types of dual-use technology to Iran while banning the transfer of arms or nuclear technology outright.

However, U.S. efforts to urge Russia, North Korea, and China to adopt restrictions on arms and technology transfers to Iran have met only with very limited success. North Korea is still supplying missiles and missile production technology. China is still supplying conventional arms and materials and technology for Iran's CBW program, though it has pledged to halt aid to Iran's ballistic missile and civilian nuclear programs. Russia, however, still provides conventional arms and technology for Iran's missile and WMD programs.

The United States should seek to build on its successes, by continuing with the methods that have worked. Sanctions have been a particularly important policy tool. Iran's economy has been its Achilles' heel and the main obstacle to the realization of its military ambitions. Iran's economic woes—which have been exacerbated by U.S. sanctions—have repeatedly forced Tehran to pare back and delay the procurement of arms and technology. Lacking the funds to sustain a major, across-the-board military buildup, Iran has had to content itself with selectively enhancing its military capabilities. Despite recent improvements in Tehran's economic circumstances, the economy remains the main constraint on Iran's efforts to acquire arms and technology from Russia—though it is a less significant factor than it was just a few years ago.

As long as there remain reasonable grounds for suspecting that Iran is violating its arms control obligations, the United States should maintain sanctions on Tehran. The unilateral rescission of various executive orders that restrict trade and investment in Iran as part of a policy of "engagement" might yield short-term economic benefits for U.S. business but would likely do long-term damage to the security of the United States and its allies. These sanctions are an important source of leverage for the United States and should not be lifted without quid pro quos from Iran that address Washington's proliferation concerns.

Russian arms and technology transfers to Iran remain a policy challenge for which there are no simple solutions. But the problem must be actively managed—at the presidential level—lest it get worse. This is a lesson that the new Bush administration will hopefully take to heart, for while it may be difficult and frustrating to deal with the problem of preventing proliferation from Russia, it is preferable to dealing with the challenges of a nuclear Iran armed with long-range missiles.

Russian-Iranian Nuclear Cooperation Accord

January 8, 1995

Protocol of negotiations between Professor V.N. Mikhailov, Minister of Atomic Energy of the Russian Federation, and Director R. Amrollahi, Vice President of the Islamic Republic of Iran and Chairman of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran.

From January 5-8, 1995, Minister of Atomic Energy of the Russian Federation, Prof. V.N. Mikhailov, visited Iran at the request of the Vice President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Chairman of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Director R. Amrollahi. During this visit, negotiations concerning cooperation in the peaceful use of atomic energy were held. The two parties expressed their satisfaction with the results of the visit and reached the following agreements:

1. The present protocol establishes that the contract for completing the construction of Block No. 1 at the Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant (NPP), which was signed by the Russian firm Zarubezhatomenergostroy and by the Atomic Energy Organization on January 8, 1995, shall be carried out by the parties.

2. The parties exchanged letters in which the principal questions concerning cooperation on completing construction of Block No. 1 at the Bushehr NPP in Iran were decided.

3. To utilize Iranian personnel, as much as possible, especially for completing Block No. 1 at the Bushehr NPP.

4. The subsequent delivery of fuel for Block No. 1 at the Bushehr NPP will be done as stipulated and at world prices.

5. Within a month, the Russian side will instruct the corresponding Russian organization to submit a proposal for the training of Iranian personnel, so that after a preliminary period of operation, Block No. 1 at the Bushehr NPP can be run exclusively by Iranian personnel.

6. The parties instruct their competent organizations to prepare and sign:

  • in three months, a contract for delivery of a light water reactor for research with a power of 30-50 MWt from Russia;
  • in the first quarter of 1995, a contract for the delivery of 2,000 tons of natural uranium from Russia;
  • in the first quarter of 1995, a contract for the preparation/training for Atomic Energy Organization of Iran scientific personnel, 10-20 (graduate students and Ph.D.'s) annually, at Russian academic institutions;
  • within six months time, a contract for the construction of a uranium mine in Iran, after which negotiations will be conducted on the signing of a contract for the construction of a centrifuge plant for enrichment of uranium according to conditions, which are comparable to conditions of contracts concluded by Russian organizations with firms in other countries.
  • 7. The parties have agreed:
  • On cooperation in the construction of research reactors of low power (less than 1 MWt) in Iran for instructional purposes. Over a six month period, the Russian side will transfer a technical-commercial proposal to the Iranian side on this matter;
  • To examine the issue of cooperation on the construction of a desalination plant in Iran;
  • To carry out meetings, no less frequently than once a year, on the high level of Russia's MINATOM and the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran for the organization of operational control for the implementing of cooperation, especially for the work in connection with the construction of Block No. 1 at Bushehr NPP.
  • The discussions were carried out in a friendly manner.

    Two copies of the present protocol were signed in Iran, January 8, 1995, one each in Russian and Persian.

    V.N. Mikhailov

    Minister of Atomic Energy

    Of the Russian Federation

    R. Amrollahi

    President of the Atomic

    Energy Organization of Iran

    Translated by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

    Russian Entities Alleged to Have Assisted Iran's Missile Program
    Entity Alleged Activity Action Taken
    Baltic State Technical University Training of Iranian personnel Denied U.S. funding (March 1998), sanctioned by the United States (July 1998)
    Bauman Technical University Training of Iranian personnel  
    Europalas 2000 Attempted transfer of special steel via Azerbaijan Sanctioned by the United States (July 1998)
    Federal Security Service (FSB) Facilitated travel of Russian specialists to Iran  
    Glavkosmos Transferred dual-use missile production technology Sanctioned by the United States (July 1998)
    Grafit Research Institute Transferred graphite ablative materials to Iran Sanctioned by the United States (July 1998)
    INOR Scientific Center Transferred special mirrors, composite materials, foils, and metals to Iran Sanctioned by the United States (July 1998), restrictions lifted (April 2000)
    Kominterm Plant (Novosibirsk) Missile specialists traveled to Iran under false documents Suspicions not substantiated, sanctions not imposed
    MOSO Company Attempted transfer of special steel via Azerbaijan Sanctioned by the United States (July 1998)
    Moscow Aviation Institute Training of Iranian personnel Denied U.S. funding (March 1998), sanctioned by the United States (January 1999)
    NPO Energomash Transferred SS-4 engine technology Suspicions not substantiated
    NPO Trud Transferred engine components, documentation, and engine test equipment; contracted to manufacture engine turbopumps Lattermost effort thwarted; no recent signs of activity with Iran
    Polyus Science and Research Institute Transferred missile guidance technology and assisted with design of Shahab-3 guidance package Sanctioned by the United States (July 1998), restrictions lifted (April 2000)
    Russian Space Agency According to Israeli intelligence, Director Yuri Koptev facilitated technology transfers  
    Rosvoorouzhenie Arms Export Agency According to Israeli intelligence, recruited Russians to assist Iranians and facilitated several technology transfers  
    Tikhomirov Institute Unclear Suspicions not substantiated, sanctions not imposed
    TsAGI Central Aerohydrodynamic


    Contracted to build wind tunnel; transferred model missiles and missile design software Denied U.S. funding (March 1998), no recent signs of activity with Iran
    Sources: Fred Wehling, "Russian Nuclear and Missile Exports to Iran," The Nonproliferation Review, Winter 1999, pp. 134-143; "The Russian List," The Iran Brief, March 2, 1998, pp. 9-10; The Washington Times, various articles; and interview with senior U.S. government official, February 23, 2001.

    Note: This table provides a snapshot of alleged activities based on information primarily from the 1997-1998 timeframe. Some firms listed here may have been involved in activities with Iran on a one-time basis; others may have been involved on an ongoing basis. In general, however, many of the major firms involved very early in the transfer of know-how and technology to Iran have bowed out and have been replaced by smaller companies and individuals providing mainly technical assistance, according to a senior U.S. official.


    The author would like to thank Liat Radcliffe, Rachel Stroumsa, and Ashraf Zeitoon for their research assistance in preparing this article.

    1. Iranian arms buyers also approached several Eastern European states. However, due to U.S. pressure, Romania, Hungary, Yugoslavia, and the Czech Republic rebuffed the Iranian approaches, as did Poland—after selling about 100 T-72 tanks to Iran.

    2. According to a seemingly authoritative Russian account, Moscow and Tehran signed four major arms contracts between 1989 and 1991 that were the basis for nearly all conventional arms transfers during the 1990s. Igor Korotenko, "Russia and Iran Renew Collaboration; Tehran May Take Third Place in Volume of Russian Arms Purchases," Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye, January 12, 2001.

    3. These estimates are based on several sources, including Shlomo Brom and Yiftah Shapir, eds., The Middle East Military Balance: 1999-2000 (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000) pp. 188-189; IISS, The Military Balance: 2000-2001 (London: Oxford University Press, 1999) pp. 132, 139; the UN Register for Conventional Arms, various years.

    4. Bill Gertz, "Russia Sells Missiles to Iran," Washington Times, April 16, 1997, p. A1; Bill Gertz, "Russia Told U.S. Air-Defense Arms Not Sold to Iran," Washington Times, April 17, 1997, p. A9; Korotenko, "Russia and Iran Renew Collaboration" op. cit.

    5. "Russia Resumes Arms Sales to Iran," Iran Times, January 21, 2000, pp. A1, A4.

    6. Orly Azulay-Katz and Eytan Amit, "Hundreds of Missiles En Route From Russia to Iran," Yediot Aharonot, November 24, 2000, p. 6.

    7. International Monetary Fund, Islamic Republic of Iran: Recent Economic Developments, July 12, 2000, pp. 112-113.

    8. Scott Peterson, "Russians Tighten Ties to Iran," The Christian Science Monitor, January 26, 2001.

    9. In November 2000, China announced that it would not help any country develop ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads. It remains to be seen whether they will live up to this commitment.

    10. Robert Gallucci, "Iran-Russia Missile Cooperation: The United States View," in Joseph Cirincione, ed., Repairing the Regime: Preventing the Spread of Weapons of Mass Destruction (Washington, D.C.: The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2000), pp. 186, 188.

    11. Bill Gertz, "North Korea Sells Iran Missile Engines," Washington Times, February 9, 2000, p. A1; Robert D. Walpole, testimony before the International Security, Proliferation and Federal Services Subcommittee of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, September 21, 2000; David Hoffman, "Russia Says It Thwarted Attempt by Iran to Get Missile Technology," Washington Post, October 3, 1997, p. A35.

    12. "Iran to Test Motor for New Space Rocket," Agence France Presse, February 7, 1999.

    13. Amy E. Smithson, Toxic Archipelago: Preventing Proliferation for the Former Soviet Chemical and Biological Weapons Complexes (Washington, D.C.: The Henry L. Stimson Center, 1999), p. 17; Judith Miller with William J. Broad, "Bio-Weapons in Mind, Iranians Lure Needy Ex-Soviet Scientists," The New York Times, December 8, 1998, p. A1.

    14. A New Challenge After the Cold War: Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (Moscow: FIS, 1993), translated in JPRS-TND, March 5, 1993, p. 28; Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons: Problems of Its Prolongation, (Moscow: FIS, 1995), pp. 56-59.

    15. Though a dual-use item, these may be used in the explosive package of a nuclear weapon. Susanna Loof, "Swedish Student Suspected of Smuggling Nuclear Weapon Technology to Iran," AP Worldstream, October 11, 1999.

    16. In October 1997, China told the United States that it would not sign any new contracts regarding civilian nuclear cooperation with Iran once two projects of limited proliferation concern that were then underway (a zero-power reactor and a factory to produce zirconium cladding for fuel rods) were completed.

    17. Brenda Shaffer, Partners in Need: Russia and Iran (Washington, D.C.: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, forthcoming).

    18. Portions of this section are drawn from Michael Eisenstadt, "Can the United States Influence the WMD Policies of Iraq and Iran?" The Nonproliferation Review, Summer 2000, pp. 63-76.

    Michael Eisenstadt is a senior fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

    Russia Stands by Decision To Sell Arms to Iran

    January/February 2001

    By Wade Boese

    In December meetings with high-level U.S. government officials, Russia reaffirmed that it would sell weapons to Iran, confirming Moscow's earlier declaration that it would withdraw from a June 1995 agreement not to sell arms to Tehran. During the talks, Russia said it would abide by international agreements preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and highlighted a new committee that had been established December 1 to oversee the Russian arms trade.

    A U.S. team led by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Nonproliferation Controls John Barker discussed the issue of Russian arms sales to Iran in Moscow on December 6 and 7. The Department of State would only say that "full, frank, and comprehensive discussions" took place.

    Secretary of Defense William Cohen also raised the issue on December 6 with Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev on the sidelines of a NATO defense ministers' meeting in Brussels. Sergeyev stated Russia would sell only "defensive" weapons to Tehran. However, there is no common definition of what a defensive weapon is.

    Sergeyev traveled to Iran for a three-day visit from December 26 to 28 with the aim of renewing military cooperation between the two states. Though there were no reports of concluded arms deals, on December 28 State Department spokesman Philip Reeker described the United States as "particularly disturbed" by Russian press accounts that Moscow would be prepared to sell missiles and submarines to Tehran. Some of the items reportedly discussed as being for sale, Reeker said, "would pose a serious threat, and so calling it defensive is not going to diminish that threat."

    A 1992 U.S. law calls for sanctions on countries exporting "destabilizing numbers and types of advanced conventional weapons" to Iran or Iraq, while legislation first passed in 1993 mandates sanctions on exporters of lethal military equipment to state sponsors of terrorism, a classification that includes Iran. Russia could therefore face U.S. sanctions depending on the types of weapons it sells to Tehran.

    Moscow Increases Export Control

    Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree December 1 establishing a new body, the Russian Federation Committee for Military-Technical Cooperation With Foreign States, to run Russia's arms trade. Charged with licensing and monitoring Russian arms exports, the committee will be headed by Deputy Defense Minister Mikhail Dmitriev, who will report directly to Putin.

    Apparently aiming to exercise greater personal control over Russian weapons exports, Putin will make decisions on shipping weapons to countries that are not pre-approved recipients of Russian arms as well as decisions on shipping arms that are not pre-approved for export. Putin consolidated Russia's two leading arms exporting companies into a single firm, Rosoboronexport, on November 4. (See ACT, December 2000.)

    Russia Stands by Decision To Sell Arms to Iran

    Russia to Bow Out of 1995 Deal Banning Arms Trade With Iran

    December 2000

    By Wade Boese

    Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov informed the United States in early November that beginning December 1 Russia will withdraw from a 1995 agreement not to sell arms to Iran. The Clinton administration, which defended the agreement against strong Republican attacks in October, warned Russia it could face sanctions if it signs new arms agreements with Tehran. U.S. and Russian government experts will meet in Moscow the first week of December to discuss the issue.

    Russia signed a June 1995 agreement with the United States to stop selling arms to Iran and to complete the delivery of all weapons previously sold to Iran by the end of 1999. Officially termed an "aide memoire," the agreement also stated that the United States would not sanction Russia for its arms deals with Iran that were already in the pipeline. According to the administration, Vice President Al Gore made that assurance only after the State Department, Pentagon, the Joint Staff, and the intelligence community had reviewed the pending Russian deals and determined that they would not trigger sanctions under U.S. law.

    The United States and Russia also agreed that the text of the aide memoire would remain confidential, and in his letter, which arrived in Washington the first week of November, Ivanov said that it was the recent U.S. publicity surrounding the agreement that had compelled Moscow to formally break its vows. While U.S. and Russian officials have publicly referred to the agreement since 1995, the aide memoire drew considerable public attention in October when U.S. newspapers and several Republican legislators portrayed it as a secret pact in which Gore ignored U.S. law by acquiescing to Russian arms sales to Iran. (See ACT, November 2000.)

    A senior administration official interviewed November 27 called Ivanov's justification a "pretext," claiming that Russia simply desired "freedom of action to sell arms to Iran." The official further noted that some Russian bureaucrats had wanted "to get out of the aide memoire" for some time. Arms sales are an important source of hard currency for Moscow, which just reorganized its state-owned arms selling firms to reduce unwanted competition that was driving Russian weapon prices lower. (See p. 27.)

    Though the Clinton administration received notice of Russia's intentions the first week of November, the Russian plans did not become public until The Washington Post reported on the letter on November 22. The senior administration official explained that the administration did not make the letter public because it wanted the chance to first respond to the Russians.

    U.S. officials "at the highest levels," according to another administration source, warned Russia that there would be consequences, including the possibility of sanctions, if Moscow concluded new arms contracts with Iran. President Bill Clinton raised the issue with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, held in Brunei on November 15 and 16.

    Talking on the sidelines of the November 27-28 Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe meeting in Vienna, Ivanov and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright agreed that U.S. and Russian experts would meet the following week to explore and address U.S. concerns about Russian arms to Iran. Russian officials, including Ivanov, contend Moscow has yet to conclude any new arms deals with Iran, while Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev on November 23 said Russia will continue to follow all international non-proliferation prohibitions regarding weapons of mass destruction.

    Whether U.S. sanctions will be imposed in the future will depend on what types of weapons Russia may sell to Iran. A U.S. law passed in 1992 calls for sanctions on countries supplying "destabilizing numbers and types of advanced conventional weapons" to Iran or Iraq, while other legislation, first passed in 1993, mandates sanctions for countries transferring "lethal military equipment" to state sponsors of terrorism, which Iran is classified as by the United States.

    Russia has not strictly abided by its 1995 commitments over the past few years, selling some $200 million in weapons to Iran between 1996 and 1999, according to the Congressional Research Service. Russia also did not finish deliveries of its pre-1995 deals before the deadline set out in the aide memoire. Yet despite Russia's less-than-perfect record of sticking to its commitments, Department of State Spokesman Richard Boucher on October 30 noted the agreement had improved U.S. security over the past several years "by limiting the number and quality of weapons that have gone to Iran."

    Russia to Bow Out of 1995 Deal Banning Arms Trade With Iran

    GOP Says Gore May Have Violated Law in Russia-Iran Nuclear Deal

    November 2000

    By Alex Wagner

    Congressional Republicans claimed that Vice President Al Gore may have violated the law by keeping secret the details of a 1995 deal to restrict Moscow's transfer of nuclear technology to Iran. (See p. 23 for coverage of other accusations.)

    In 1994, Russia had signed a contract with Iran to complete a light-water nuclear reactor at Bushehr and to sell Tehran gas centrifuge uranium enrichment technology, which the United States contended would enhance Iran's ability to develop nuclear weapons. At a May 1995 summit in Moscow, President Bill Clinton announced that he had secured a pledge from then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin to halt the sale. The technical and legal details of Yeltsin's assurance were subsequently worked out in an existing bilateral commission chaired by Gore and then-Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin.

    The accusations were made after The Washington Times published an October 17 article citing a classified letter from Chernomyrdin to Gore dated December 9, 1995, in which Chernomyrdin writes that information about Russia's nuclear relationship with Iran is "not to be conveyed to third parties, including the U.S. Congress." According to the 1978 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act, Congress must be notified of any negotiated agreement that seeks to address nuclear exports that could create proliferation concerns.

    The published details of the letter drew a swift response from GOP legislators. During a press conference October 19, Senator Gordon Smith (R-OR) said that not informing relevant Senate committees of the deal's specifics was "a violation of the law." At an October 18 hearing of the House International Relations Committee, Chairman Benjamin Gilman (R-NY) said that "the American people have a right to expect their administration to clarify that Congress is not a third party to be kept in the dark."

    Administration officials have said they adequately furnished Congress with the details of the agreement in 1995. At an October 19 press briefing, White House spokesman Jake Siewert called the accusation that the accord was kept secret "simply not true." He noted that the administration briefed the House International Relations Committee and provided the press with a fact sheet on the agreement. According to a State Department official, the administration also briefed members of Congress and congressional staffs.

    Administration officials also maintained that the deal was beneficial to U.S. security and that without it, Iran's nuclear capabilities would be far more advanced than they are now. In testimony before a joint subcommittee hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee October 25, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Nonproliferation Joseph DeThomas characterized the handling of the issue as a "partisan brawl."

    GOP Says Gore May Have Violated Law in Russia-Iran Nuclear Deal

    Congress Levies Accusations on Gore-Chernomyrdin Deal

    November 2000

    By Wade Boese

    Just weeks before the presidential election, Republican legislators alleged that Vice President Al Gore concluded a secret June 1995 deal with Moscow whereby Russia was permitted to transfer arms to Iran without the United States imposing sanctions called for by U.S. non-proliferation laws. The Clinton administration denied that the deal required ignoring U.S. law, and it staunchly defended the agreement, arguing that it was responsible for Russia not signing any new "advanced" conventional arms contracts with Iran after 1995. Though Russia has not strictly abided by its commitments not to sell additional weaponry to Iran, its pre-1995 deals do not appear to be sanctionable under U.S. law. (See p. 25 for coverage of nuclear-related accusations.)

    Building on a September 1994 statement from then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin to President Bill Clinton that Moscow would end arms sales to Iran, Gore secured a written agreement, officially referred to as an "aide memoire," from then-Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin in June 1995 that Russia would not sign any new arms deals with Iran and would complete delivery of all existing weapons orders by the end of 1999. In exchange, Washington supported Russian participation in founding a new arms trade regime—what would subsequently become the 1996 Wassenaar Arrangement. Lynn Davis, then-undersecretary of state for arms control and international security affairs, publicly elaborated on the deal in a July 12, 1995, speech to a Washington think tank audience.

    As part of the agreement, Russia provided the United States with an accounting of all pending arms deals that it expected to fulfill with Iran, thereby preventing Russia from modifying its deals or adding sales in the future and then claiming they had been concluded before 1995. Reportedly, the supplied list of deals in the pipeline—the bulk of which were signed in 1991 or earlier—included battle tanks, armored combat vehicles, a Kilo-class submarine, torpedoes, and aerial bombs.

    Last year, Russia informed the United States that delivery of some of the pre-1995 deals would not be completed by the agreed 1999 deadline and asked for an extension. The United States objected, but Russia has continued to transfer arms to Iran this year. Department of State spokesman Richard Boucher said October 13 that the administration has "made clear in no uncertain terms in our discussions [with Russia] that we don't approve of that extension." Boucher noted earlier that "to the best of our knowledge" Russia has "signed no new contracts for the sale of advanced conventional arms to Iran for the last five years."

    An August report issued by the Congressional Research Service, however, claims that between 1996 and 1999 Russia agreed to arms sales with Iran worth roughly $200 million. Anthony Cordesman, who served as an assistant on national security matters to Senator John McCain (R-AZ), wrote in an October 15 report that "violations of U.S. and Russian agreements have been minor, have had little military meaning, and been more technical than substantive." Early this year, Iran started taking delivery of five Mi-17 combat transport helicopters, which were reportedly not on the 1995 agreed list.


    GOP Senators Air Charges

    At an October 5 joint subcommittee hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee devoted to Russian involvement in Iranian weapons programs, Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) grilled Assistant Secretary of State for Nonproliferation Robert Einhorn on Russian arms sales to Iran. Brownback, citing a recently released CIA report on proliferation which charged that Russia "remains an important source of conventional weapons and spare parts for Iran," asserted that Russia had not lived up to its "negotiated" 1995 deal to end its Iranian arms trade. The senator further explained that in return for the 1995 Russian commitment the United States had "pledged to avoid any sanctions."

    Eight days later, The New York Times ran a front-page story on the 1995 aide memoire, quoting sections of the classified document. The article named the 1992 Iran-Iraq Arms Non-Proliferation Act as the law the Gore-Chernomyrdin agreement "appeared to undercut," though it erroneously stated that the legislation calls for sanctions to be applied to all countries that transfer weapons to state sponsors of terrorism. Cosponsored by McCain and Gore, when he represented Tennessee in the Senate, the 1992 legislation calls on the United States to impose sanctions on countries supplying Baghdad or Tehran with "destabilizing numbers and types of advanced conventional weapons." The act lists specific types of weapons defined as "advanced" but leaves it to the president's discretion to determine what would be "destabilizing" or to expand the list by adding additional weapon systems.

    (A separate U.S. law prohibits the United States from providing foreign assistance to countries that deliver "lethal military equipment" to states sponsoring terrorism. This specific legislation was first enacted on September 30, 1993. The law only applied to contracts entered into after the law took effect and would therefore not apply retroactively to any Russian deals in the aide memoire concluded prior to that date. This language was later amended to the Foreign Assistance Act on April 24, 1996.

    Against a backdrop of rising press attention, Senators Gordon Smith (R-OR) and Brownback held an October 19 press conference to announce that they would hold a hearing the following week to investigate the 1995 agreement. Brownback, who had earlier noted in the October 5 hearing that the United States had pledged to avoid sanctions in return for Russia halting its arms deals with Iran, declared at the press conference that "the first I knew about this agreement was when the story broke in The New York Times." A Senate Republican staffer explained in an October 26 interview that the senator meant the Times article was the first he had heard of a "written" deal.

    As further evidence that the Clinton administration "willfully" intended to "ignore U.S. statutes," at the press conference Brownback cited a secret January 13, 2000, letter from Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov—also excerpted in press accounts—that stated "without the aide memoire, Russia's conventional arms sales to Iran would have been subject to sanctions based on various provisions of our laws." The senators called on the administration to turn over all relevant documents.

    The Administration Response

    Appearing October 15 on NBC, National Security Adviser Samuel Berger noted that the Russian deals reported under the 1995 aide memoire did not match the types defined as "advanced" by the Iran-Iraq Act. On October 13, the day The New York Times article appeared, Richard Boucher stated that before Gore signed the aide memoire, the Pentagon reviewed the Russian arms sales and concluded that "none" would be destabilizing or would threaten the military balance in the Persian Gulf. The State Department spokesman also asserted that none of the contracts were "sanctionable by law because they predate the effective date of the various lethal military equipment sanctions laws and because they did not meet the threshold for advanced conventional weapons, as defined in the Iran-Iraq Nonproliferation Act of 1992." A Gore aide, interviewed on October 23, further stated that "In no way did the Vice President pledge to forgo sanctions that would be applicable under U.S. law."

    Testifying before a joint hearing of Senate subcommittees on October 25, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Nonproliferation Controls John Barker provided the administration's fullest explanation of the deal. Barker stated the U.S. government only gave the assurance that it would take "appropriate steps" not to sanction Russia for its pre-1995 deals "after a careful review to ensure that they did not in fact trigger mandatory sanctions under the Iran-Iraq Act or other potential applicable sanctions laws." The intelligence community, Pentagon, Department of State, and the Joint Staff, according to Barker, all participated in the review before a "conclusion of non-sanctionability was reached."

    Barker, who started his testimony by warning that U.S. negotiating strategy with Russia was "being compromised by discussing these matters in public," emphasized the administration made "no promise" not to impose U.S. law. "It has always been the case that the transfers subject to the aide memoire do not trigger U.S. sanctions laws. There were no sanctions to impose," he said.

    Addressing Russia's transfer of a Kilo-class submarine in 1997, which GOP senators have repeatedly highlighted as an example of a sanctionable transfer, Barker stated that the submarine did not fall within the 1992 act's definition of an advanced conventional weapon. He added that he assumed "[President George Bush's] administration must have reached the same conclusion" since a Kilo was first delivered to Iran in 1992 without eliciting sanctions. Tehran signed the contract for three Kilos in 1988; deliveries took place in 1992, 1993, and 1997.

    Barker also dismissed an accusation made in an October 24 letter by 11 former high-level government officials that the United States had "acquiesced" to sales of Russian fighter aircraft to Iran. "Advanced military aircraft" are on the sanctionable list of the 1992 Iran-Iraq Act, but Barker stated, "We believe that Iran's Russian aircraft were supplied before 1995," meaning they would not have fallen under the purview of the Gore-Chernomyrdin agreement.

    Explaining the Albright letter, Barker said that it was "intended to deliver a stern warning that failure to abide by the restrictions embodied in the aide memoire regarding arms sales to Iran could have serious consequences." He said the letter was sent at a time when the administration was looking for Russian clarifications on their compliance with the aide memoire. "We felt it appropriate to stress the maximum consequences they might face, depending on further disclosures about Russian export activity," he said. Barker claimed the approach worked in that Russia reaffirmed its "commitment to limit the scope of the conventional weapons transfers to those items covered by the aide memoire."

    Speaking to the issue of whether the administration kept the deal secret, Barker testified that the "thrust of these documents was widely telegraphed to both the Congress and the American people." He noted the administration released a fact sheet at the time and has frequently made reference to the deal, including in congressional testimony. Prior to the hearing on October 19, White House spokesman Jake Siewert said the House International Relations Committee had received a briefing in 1995 and remarked the upcoming hearing was "more about the election season than about the real substance here."

    After the Senate hearing, which went into closed session, Senator Brownback released a statement saying that until the administration turns over the full text of the aide memoire, questions will remain whether the administration broke U.S. law. That afternoon, senior GOP senators demanded the administration hand over the documents, which it had so far refused to do, by noon October 30 or face the possibility of a subpoena to release the aide memoire. On the day of the deadline, the State Department proposed allowing only the congressional leadership access to the relevant documents, but GOP leaders rejected the offer as inadequate.

    Congress Levies Accusations on Gore-Chernomyrdin Deal

    Moscow Puts Hold on Transfer of Laser Isotope Separator to Iran

    October 2000

    By Alex Wagner

    Russian officials confirmed September 21 that they would freeze shipment of a laser isotope separator to Iran, following repeated requests by the Clinton administration, which believes Tehran could use the technology to produce weapons-grade enriched uranium.

    Yuri Bespalko, head of public relations at the Russian Atomic Energy Ministry, conceded that because of U.S. concerns "a decision has been made to give the issue more thorough consideration," according to Interfax, the independent Russian news agency. However, Bespalko said that pending review of the laser technology by U.S. and Russian commissions, the deal could still go through as planned.

    According to David Stockwell, spokesman for the National Security Council, President Bill Clinton was notified in early September that Russia had agreed to freeze the laser transfer. Since July, the president has reportedly raised the prospective laser sale at least twice with Russian President Vladimir Putin: at the July Group of Eight summit in Okinawa, Japan and on September 6 at the UN Millennium summit in New York.

    Boris Yatsenko, director of Microtechnology at the Yefremov Scientific Research Institute, the laboratory scheduled to sell Iran the laser, told Interfax that the laser, which he said is 15-20 watts, is intended "only for medical, industrial, and scientific purposes." At 15-20 watts, the laser would fall below the 40-watt threshold requiring control by the Nuclear Suppliers Group—a group of 34 countries (including the United States and Russia) that have agreed to restrict the export of nuclear and dual-use equipment that could be used for weapons purposes.

    Laser separation of uranium appears to be too expensive to be economically competitive for commercial production. In 1973, the United States began attempting to develop a cost-effective laser. However, the program was abandoned in June 1999 after an investment of nearly $2 billion.

    The United States Enrichment Corporation, the private nuclear fuel provider that inherited the U.S. government's laser program, concluded that although the laser enrichment technology worked, the returns were not sufficient to sustain it on a commercial basis.

    Despite the Clinton administration's concerns, some U.S. nuclear experts maintain that obtaining low-powered laser isotope separation technology would not substantially enhance Iran's capability to produce nuclear weapons. It could, however, help advance Iranian scientists' research and development on the use of lasers for uranium enrichment.

    The U.S. intelligence community has long maintained that Tehran has been diverting nuclear material and technology from its civilian programs despite the fact that Iran is a member in good standing of the International Atomic Energy Agency with all of its declared nuclear facilities safeguarded. At a September 21 hearing, A. Norman Schindler, deputy director of the CIA's Nonproliferation Center, told a Senate Governmental Affairs subcommittee that Iran is "seeking nuclear-related equipment, material, and technical expertise from a variety of foreign sources, especially in Russia" and has developed "an elaborate system of covert military and civilian organizations to support its acquisition goals."

    The United States has been concerned for years about Russian-Iranian nuclear cooperation, especially since a 1995 announcement that Russia would help Iran complete the construction of two nuclear power reactors near Bushehr. In January 1999, such concern led the Clinton administration to impose sanctions on three Russian companies for sharing nuclear and missile technology with Iran. (See ACT, January/February 1999.)

    Moscow Puts Hold on Transfer of Laser Isotope Separator to Iran

    Iran Claims Successful Test of Shahab-3 Variant

    October 2000

    Fueling concerns that Iran is making rapid advancements in its ballistic missile program, Iran's state-run Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported September 21 that Iran had "successfully tested" a Shahab-3D ballistic missile—its second Shahab test in just over two months. U.S. officials would not confirm that a test had taken place, but a Pentagon official said, "We know that Iran will continue to test the Shahab missiles [and that] they will continue to develop a longer-range missile capability."

    The announcement of the Shahab-3D test unveils a previously unknown variant of the liquid-fueled, road-mobile Shahab-3. At present, the range and payload of the 3D version are unknown; however, the September 21 IRNA report specified that the Shahab-3D employs a combination of solid-liquid propellant, which would make the missile Iran's first to incorporate solid-fuel technology. The Shahab-3 is a 53 foot-long, 1,300 kilometer-range ballistic missile that was first tested in 1998 and again this July. (See ACT, September 2000.)

    Iranian government radio maintained that the September 21 test was for nonmilitary purposes to allow Iran to begin "design and production" of "satellite guidance systems." However, such claims have done little to ease U.S. threat assessments because the technology required to launch satellites is similar to that for a ballistic missile system.

    In a September 21 subcommittee hearing of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, Robert Walpole, the National Intelligence Council's officer for strategic and nuclear programs, warned that despite the Iranian government's contention, the intelligence community considers the Shahab-3D "a missile, not a space-launch vehicle." Walpole testified that Tehran has a "very active" program that could test a missile capable of carrying a biological or chemical weapon to the United States "in the next few years."

    The September 21 test occurred on the first day of Holy Defense Week, a yearly commemoration of the beginning of the Iran-Iraq War in 1980. To commemorate the war's anniversary, both the Iranian regular military and the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps have traditionally held war games, conducted maneuvers, and staged parades showcasing their military hardware.

    Iran Claims Successful Test of Shahab-3 Variant


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