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Russian institutes, experts aid Iran on missiles, U.S. says Clinton reportedly pressed Yeltsin to halt advice on ballistic missile program

WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON -- The Clinton administration has been quietly pressing Russia for most of this year to stop Russian scientists and military institutes from helping Iran develop a new ballistic missile that could reach Israel, Saudi Arabia and American troops in the Persian Gulf, senior administration officials say.

The Russian scientists' assistance has continued, officials said, even though President Clinton raised the matter with President Boris N. Yeltsin in private meetings in June at the Denver economic summit.

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American officials said they have become increasingly frustrated with Russia's inaction, and they note that Vice President Al Gore complained about the Russians' role in the Iranian project as early as February.

Last month, Clinton assigned Frank Wisner to be his envoy for the problem. Wisner, who had retired from government service after being ambassador to India, returned last week from a visit to Russia, Israel, Egypt and the United Kingdom.

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He received new assurances from senior Russian government officials that, "It is not Russian policy to support Iran's development of a ballistic-missile capacity," a senior White House official said.

According to the American officials, the assistance to Iran is being provided by institutes and companies that were an integral part of the state-owned military complex of the Soviet Union, which controlled the design, construction and deployment of all missiles, nuclear or otherwise. Since the breakup of the Soviet Union and the introduction of Russia's semi-market economy, military spending has plummeted, and many of these institutes have sought private contracts and income.

American officials have long been concerned that Russian scientists would sell their specialized knowledge to countries such as Iraq and Iran, and have tried to develop cooperative programs to keep such scientists at work with salaries.

The fact of assistance by Russian scientists to Iran's missile program has been reported before, but the American officials are only now disclosing how persistently, and unsuccessfully, the U.S. government has tried to get Russia to stop it.

Deployment of the kind of mid-range ballistic missile the Americans are concerned about could be between two years and five years or more away, depending on how much help Iran gets from Russia and other countries, such as China and North Korea, officials and experts said. One major concern is that Iran is also trying to develop nuclear, biological and chemical weapons that can be carried by such a missile.

Russian officials deny that there is any government policy or program to help Iran develop a ballistic missile or to transfer missile technology to Tehran. They say the Russian government has adhered to Yeltsin's 1994 pledge to avoid any further arms sales to Iran. But the Russians have not responded in detail to evidence that Russian scientists and institutes are helping Iran.

Washington, by providing details about what help is coming from which institute, wants Moscow to end the assistance by making sure that contracts are canceled and that scientists with missile expertise do not travel to Iran, the officials said.

Pub Date: 8/22/97


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