Russia, Iran ink 10-year military pact

WASHINGTON, March 12 -- Russia agreed Monday to a ten-year security pact with Iran that would among other things open new weapons contracts with one of seven countries considered a state-sponsor of terrorism by the State Department.

The deal could potentially unleash a host of financial and diplomatic penalties from President Bush should he and his foreign policy team agree to enforce the strict sanctions required under U.S. law for countries found to be aiding Iran's military.


Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the sales on Russian television Monday evening following a meeting with Iranian counterpart Mohammad Khatami. After the meeting, Putin underlined that Iran was interested in purchasing only defensive weapons such as tanks, air defense systems and other battlefield military equipment.

"Those applications that the Iranian partners have filed with the Russian arms producers focus completely on defensive weapons," said Putin.


The arms sales may spark an old debate in Washington over sanctioning Moscow for selling conventional weapons to Iran. Russia essentially avoided U.S. penalties in 1995 when then Russian Premier Viktor Chernomyrdin signed a secret pact with then Vice President Al Gore pledging that Russia would not make any new arms deals with Iran in exchange for an agreement from Gore not to apply sanctions for Iran living up to their old ones.

But when word leaked out of the secret arrangement in November, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov used it as an opportunity to announce Russia was backing out of the agreement. At the time however, he personally assured Secretary of State Madeleine Albright that his country had no plans to begin new contracts.

Not even four months after Ivanov's promise, Russian and Iranian defense ministers are scheduled to meet Tuesday to wrap up the final details of a new arms deal. While Moscow has shared no details of the new transaction, Colin Powell's State Department is concerned.

"As far as what constitutes defensive systems, I guess the Russians haven't been quite clear on that, but we would be looking particularly closely at anything that was advanced conventional weapons or sensitive technologies," State Department spokesman, Richard Boucher said Monday. "We think it is particularly counter-productive for the Russians to sell things in their neighborhood in areas that affect us as well that might threaten us all."


This will most likely be front and center in talks Wednesday between National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and her Russian counterpart Sergei Ivanov in Washington.

Rice will have to decide whether she will recommend that President Bush apply the penalties associated with the 1992 Iran-Iran Nonproliferation Act and the 2000 Iran Nonproliferation Act. That bill would require the U.S. to among other things suspend most economic assistance to Moscow for one year, oppose extensions of credit on international financial bodies like the International Monetary Fund and end technological exchanges involving military or dual use technology for one year.

Last year, when news of the Gore-Chernomyrdin pact leaked, Rice's mentor and former National Security Adviser for the President's father Brent Scowcroft signed a statement that said the deal "acquiesced in the sale by Russia to Iran of highly threatening military equipment such as modern submarines, fighter planes and wake-homing torpedoes."

From a geo-strategic standpoint, Russian anti-ship weapons could threaten U.S. military predominance in the Persian Gulf.

"Certainly the U.S. and Western side are not happy, with Russian technology$(Iran$)could command the whole Gulf area," said Keith Bush the director of the Russia Eurasia program at the Center for Strategic International Studies, a bipartisan Washington-based foreign policy think tank.


One ray of hope in the agreement is Putin's commitment that Moscow will not agree to sell nuclear weapons material and technology to Iran. However, Putin announced that Moscow will continue to assist a nuclear power plant project in Bushehr, Iran.

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