April 5, 2001

April 5, 2001 | News Releases on Middle East

United States Must Counter Russia-Iran Alliance, Experts Say

WASHINGTON, Apr. 5, 2001-Recent expansion of military cooperation between Russia and Iran could pose serious threats to U.S. interests and allies in the Persian Gulf, and the Bush administration should move quickly to keep Iran from further expanding its military capabilities, says a new Heritage Foundation paper.

Until recently, Russia appeared to be honoring a 1995 secret agreement signed by Vice President Al Gore and Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin to limit sales of "destabilizing" weapons, such as advanced missile technology, from Russia to Iran and to cease all weapons sales to Iran after Dec. 31, 1999.

But Russia President Vladimir Putin, a former KGB agent who came to power last spring, renounced the agreement in the fall of 2000. In December, he sent his defense minister to Iran, and Iranian president Mohammed Khatami responded with a visit to Russia last month. Shortly after Khatami's visit, Moscow pledged to help Iran acquire ballistic missile technology and to supply another nuclear reactor. Russia also has decided to sell Iran state-of-the-art air and missile defense systems.

Taken together, say Ariel Cohen and James Phillips, research fellows in Heritage's Davis Center for International Studies, this transfer of military technology may accelerate the arms race in an already volatile Middle East.

"Selling Iran some tanks and fighter planes during the 1990s was one thing," say Cohen and Phillips. "But these more-recent transfers of technology and equipment, particularly to one of the world's most active state sponsors of international terrorism, are quite another."

The cash-strapped Russians see in Iran both a reliable customer-only China and India buy more weaponry from Russia-and a partner to counter U.S. military superiority in the Middle East, the analysts say. The Iranians, who have paid Russia $4 billion for weapons in the last 11 years, seek a way to keep arch-rival Iraq at bay, destroy Israel, and challenge U.S. military superiority.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell recently warned both parties the United States would take action if Middle East stability is threatened. But more must be done, say Cohen and Phillips.

The United States must counter this alliance militarily, diplomatically and economically, they conclude. The Bush administration should speed the deployment of sea-based missile defense systems to protect its troops and allies in the Gulf, maintain a strong military presence in the region, and build on regional alliances friendly to U.S. interests.

Economically, administration officials should ensure that no U.S. enterprises or credits contribute to Iran's military buildup and should deny access to U.S. capital markets to Russian companies that do business in Iran. Finally, the United States should convince the Paris Club to restructure Russia's $150 billion debt in exchange for an agreement to cut the flow of advanced military technology to Iran, the analysts say.

"Iran's aspirations go beyond legitimate self-defense," they write. "Islamic militants in Iran make little effort to hide the fact that they want to destroy the United States and its ally, Israel. They also want to deny the United States access to the Persian Gulf. If America's efforts to limit these weapons sales to Iran fail, the United States will have little recourse but to impose sanctions on the violators."

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