KGB Guns May Sell In U.S. Stores

WASHINGTON -- Bowing to Russia's desperate need for export earnings, the Clinton administration is moving toward a decision to let Moscow sell a famous Russian product in the United States: handguns.

As a result, the Makarov semiautomatic pistol, a favorite side arm of KGB spies and Cold War bad guys, may soon come to local gun stores in the United States.

A U.S. gun importer has filed an application to sell as many as 7 million Russian firearms in the United States, and the administration is leaning toward approving at least part of the deal, officials said Tuesday.

The decision is still being debated between the Treasury Department's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, which is hesitant to open U.S. gates to more inexpensive gun imports, and the State Department, which wants to give visiting President Boris Yeltsin a break.

The administration has been putting pressure on Yeltsin to stop selling high-tech weapons to Iran -- and some U.S. officials see the low-tech handgun deal as a reasonable substitute.

"If we want them to listen to us on issues like Iran, we have to let them compete on the world market with products they can sell," a State Department official said.

But he acknowledged the irony of the administration, which has argued for stricter gun control at home, now advocating the import of Russian guns. "A lot of people think it's nutty to start importing Russian handguns," he said.