Bush must deal forcefully with Russia over Iran pact
The Bush administration should view Monday's agreement by Russia to sell $7 billion worth of weapons to Iran as an in-your-face challenge to the United States. It's not enough for President George W. Bush, who has been in office since Jan. 20, to voice his strong opposition to the arms sale. What Bush should do is what we had advised President Clinton to do, namely, impose economic sanctions against Russia the moment one Russian-made weapon reaches Iran.
Failure to take such decisive action will only embolden other countries, such as China, to continue selling their wares in the lucrative arms bazaar. Indeed, the failure of the Clinton administration to economically punish China for funneling nuclear technology to Iran and Pakistan could well have persuaded Russian President Vladimir Putin that there isn't any real danger in agreeing to increase trade in conventional weapons and nuclear energy cooperation with Iran.
And the initial reaction from the Bush administration suggests that Putin may have read the situation correctly.
Concern: Here's what White House spokesman Ari Fleischer had to say: "The president is concerned about any sales by Russia to Iran of any missiles and the United States has made its concerns known." Concerned?
Iran is looking to buy the S-300 air defense missile system, fighter jets, helicopters, patrol boats and other weapons. In addition, the Putin government has ignored U.S. demands that it cancel an $800 million contract to complete the Bushehr nuclear plant.
Viewed against that backdrop, the talk from the United States seems cheap. The Russians are looking to boost their failing economy, while the Iranians want the latest in armaments so they can defend themselves against their imagined enemies and pose a threat to their neighbors.
Russia's president insists that his country obeys international agreements banning the proliferation of nuclear and missile technologies. That is for the United Nations and the International Monetary Fund to decide.
In light of the first broad cooperation pact between Russia and Iran since Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution, the IMF, in particular, has a duty to ensure that the Putin government is strictly adhering to international security agreements. Why the IMF? Because Russia has received vast sums of money from the world organization to shore up its economy. Adherence to international laws and treaties are a condition for receiving the funds.
Payment freeze: If it is shown that Russia is illegally selling arms to Iran, the IMF should freeze payments to the country and the Bush administration should impose trade and other sanctions.
In 1995, the Russians pledged that they would not sell tanks and other conventional weapons to Iran. But last November, the Putin government announced that it was abandoning the pledge. Russia is not to be trusted or believed.