Secretary of State Warren Christopher Thursday sternly warned that the Clinton administration would be unsatisfied with any Russian nuclear cooperation with Iran as he laid out a sober and “businesslike” agenda for the summit Clinton will hold with Russian President Boris Yeltsin next week in Moscow.
Unlike prior summits where presidential aides tried, sometimes desperately, to highlight even minor agreements, the Clinton administration is asserting in advance that no major differences with Russia will be solved, even the most prominent one.
Administration officials from Clinton on down have warned that Russia’s proposed sale of nuclear reactors is unacceptable to the United States and will harm Moscow’s integration into the West.
Christopher Thursday was blunt on that issue. He said Clinton would share with Yeltsin “sensitive” intelligence to prove that Iran intends to use the $1 billion nuclear complex bought from Russia to create a nuclear-weapons capability, not a nuclear energy ability as it has asserted.
Christopher said the United States would not view as sufficient just a scaling back of the project, such as by Russian cancellation of a gas centrifuge plant that the United States says was part of the agreement and is particularly troubling because it could be used to produce weapons-grade enriched uranium. Cancellation of the centrifuge deal, and of Russian training of Iranian nuclear scientists, now seems likely, U.S. officials said.
But Christopher said, “We will not be satisfied by anything other than the end of the nuclear program.” He added he did not expect the Russians to make that concession at the summit, which begins Tuesday.
Russian officials have repeatedly said Moscow is fully within its rights under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and other international agreements to sell the reactors to Iran, and Russia needs the money from the deal.
Analysts in Moscow have said it would now be a major domestic political embarrassment for Yeltsin to back out of the Iranian deal altogether under U.S. pressure.
The Clinton administration is putting a “no-illusions” public face on the two-day session, whether because of complaints by Republicans and outside foreign-policy analysts that it has been too conciliatory to Yeltsin, or because of its own reassessment of U.S.-Russian relations with two years of experience behind them. The president was sharply criticized, especially by Republicans, even for agreeing to attend the summit.
Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the Clinton team “has an acute case of Moscow myopia - what Yeltsin wants, Yeltsin seems to get.”
McConnell complained of a reluctance to challenge provocative Russian moves, such as the crackdown in Chechya or Yeltsin’s “shocking turnabout” in December when he denounced NATO expansion and warned of a “cold peace” replacing the Cold War.
The senator said it was “ill-advised” for Clinton to go to Moscow under these circumstances, even if, as the White House asserts, the major reason for the visit is for the president to show support for the Russian people at a celebration of huge symbolic importance to them, the 50th anniversary of the allies’ victory over Nazi Germany in World War II.
But the White House asserts that the relationship with Russia is so broad, so vital and now so mature that talking through problems is reason enough for meetings and that avoiding them is unproductive. “We’d be very shortsighted to withdraw our support just because we didn’t agree on every single issue,” Christopher said Thursday.
The dispute over the Iranian nuclear deal is only one of several problem areas Christopher highlighted Thursday in describing what the administration now calls its policy of “pragmatic engagement” with Russia .