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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Hints at Aid Denial Over Iran Deal

COMBINED REPORTS


WASHINGTON -- The United States has left open the possibility that assistance to Russia could be withheld if Moscow does not cancel at least the most troubling component of a nuclear technology deal with Iran.


However, Russia has agreed to rethink its proposed sale to Iran of gas centrifuge equipment the U.S. says could be used in a nuclear weapons program, the State Department said Tuesday.


The review raises the possibility President Boris Yeltsin will announce cancellation of the deal when he meets in Moscow with President Bill Clinton next week, spokesman Nicholas Burns said.


There was no indication, however, that Russia was also reconsidering the projected sale of two nuclear reactors as part of a $1 billion deal to help construct a nuclear power complex near the Gulf.


Burns said U.S. and Russian experts are now holding more talks on Moscow's plans to sell the technology to Iran.


"The degree of Russian nuclear cooperation with Iran in the future will be a key factor in Iran's quest to attain the nuclear weapons capability ... and this will remain a major issue in our relationship with Russia," Burns said Tuesday.


"It's very much a live issue in the U.S.-Russian dialogue, and I wouldn't want to anticipate what the United States intends to do if the Russians do not relent on this particular aspect of the sale," he said when asked about a possible cutoff of U.S. aid to Russia.


He expressed hope that at the summit "we might be able to hear they've decided not to go forward with this."


The United States has given Russia millions of dollars to support its transition to democracy and free markets and President Clinton has asked Congress for more funds in 1996. But current foreign aid legislation bars economic aid to Russia if Moscow provides Iran equipment that substantially enhances its ability to build atomic weapons.


Since January, the United States has made an issue of Russia's $1 billion contract to provide Iran with two nuclear power reactors and related technical expertise that Washington says would help Tehran acquire nuclear weapons.


More recently, U.S. officials discovered, and protested, a promise by Russia's top atomic energy official to also supply Iran with a gas centrifuge system for enriching uranium.


Burns said it is Washington's expectation that this matter "will be very carefully reviewed in Moscow."


Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev recently told the United States his government has not officially sanctioned the centrifuge deal and hence U.S. Officials are hoping it can be more easily cancelled than the two reactors.


Washington wants Moscow to renege on the entire contract, but Kozyrev and others are not persuaded Iran is trying to acquire nuclear arms, and they stress the project is legal.


Clinton called both deals "profoundly disturbing'' Sunday and said he would ban all American trade with Iran.


However Russia will still push ahead with its plans to sell nuclear technology to Iran, a senior foreign ministry official said Wednesday.


Deputy Foreign Minister Albert Chernyshev told Interfax that despite the U.S. decision, cooperation with Tehran would continue as planned. "We are completely in the right in this case," he said. (