The United States may allow Russia to launch more foreign commercial satellites to raise millions of dollars for its cash-strapped space agency, a Clinton administration official said Monday.
American officials want to move carefully, however, before lifting a limit on such lucrative deals until Russia shows it’s serious about preventing the transfer of missile technology to Iran.
Vice President Al Gore and Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, arriving Monday here for their 10th semi-annual meeting, plan to discuss the sensitive topics.
The administration insists the two matters aren’t linked, although U.S. officials acknowledge it would be difficult to reward Moscow if Russia continues to assist Iran’s ballistic missile program.
“It’s not a question of the U.S. government offering an inducement to the Russian government,” said Jonathan Salter, a foreign policy spokesman for Gore. “In fact, expansion of the U.S.-Russia commercial space cooperation requires only that existing commercial plans be allowed to unfold free of concerns related to ballistic missile proliferation.”
On his way to Washington, Chernomyrdin said Russia is sticking to its promise that the government won’t transfer nuclear weapons and missile technology to Iran. Russian officials have said they have even foiled attempts by Russian companies to provide Iran with technology.
“We are true to our commitments, and we shall never depart from them,” Chernomyrdin said. “We have not transferred and will not transfer anything to Iran.”
Eighteen of Russia’s 48 satellite launches last year were for U.S. firms. The Russians also sent up satellites for China, Germany and Luxembourg. The launches were worth $60 million to $100 million each for the Russian Space Agency, which has had trouble paying its bills. Those money problems have contributed to delays in construction of a $21 billion international space station, now set for completion by 2003.
A 1996 agreement signed by Gore and Chernomyrdin limited Russian launches of foreign satellites in order to protect American companies from competition. Since then, however, the situation has changed with U.S. firms - including Lockheed-Martin and Boeing Co. - involved in consortiums with Russian agencies to work together on launches.
Gore and Chernomyrdin, who are expected to talk about reviewing the complicated formula that limits Russian satellite launches, also are planning to meet with executives of Bethesda, Md.-based Lockheed-Martin and visit one of its California facilities Thursday in Silicon Valley.
On the missile issue, Gore and Chernomyrdin will discuss a decree signed by Russian President Boris Yeltsin in January aimed at halting such assistance to Iran. The decree, which carries the weight of law, would prevent Russian export of so-called dual-use technologies that can be used to build missiles, nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.