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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Congress Likely to Reject Clinton's Extra Russia Aid




WASHINGTON -- President Clinton's call for a dramatic boost in U.S. aid to Russia may have a hard time winning congressional approval from lawmakers outraged over Russia's ties with Iran.


The president, in Tuesday's State of the Union address to Congress, proposed that the United States increase the amount of money spent to safeguard nuclear weapons in the former Soviet Union by about two-thirds.


U.S. officials said that meant $4.2 billion over the next five years, up from the more than $2.5 billion now budgeted.


But the White House also recently imposed sanctions on several Russian institutes for allegedly cooperating with Iranian nuclear and missile programs. To mollify congressional critics, Clinton will make clear that none of the new assistance he is proposing will go to Russian entities that aid Tehran, U.S. officials said Wednesday.


"We must expand our work with Russia, Ukraine and the other former Soviet nations to safeguard nuclear materials and technology so they never fall into the wrong hands," Clinton said.


In 1991 after the fall of the Soviet Union, Congress approved funds to develop more peace-oriented employment for Russia's cadre of nuclear weapons scientists and to accelerate the dismantling of weapons of mass destruction.


The new and more intensive Clinton push comes amid rising fears that Russia, whose economy went into a tailspin last August, is increasingly vulnerable to so-called rogue states like Iran that are eager to have the components and technical assistance needed to develop nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.


"I think clearly since the August economic meltdown in Russia, the situation has deteriorated," said William Hoehn of the Russian-American Nuclear Security Advisory Council, which promotes cooperative nuclear security initiatives.


"This winter is one of the most dangerous points along the time line in the Russian nuclear security challenge," Hoehn said in an interview.


According to Russian-American Nuclear Security Advisory Council figures, in recent years some 4,400 Russian weapons experts have been employed under a U.S. program that facilitates U.S.-Russian commercial joint ventures. Another 17,000 Russian and Ukrainian scientists have been employed in nonmilitary research projects through the International Science and Technology Center, the council said.


But this is only a fraction of the 127,000 people employed in nuclear enterprises in 10 "closed cities" that encompass the major installations of the Russian nuclear weapons complex, the council said.


Lev Ryabev of the Nuclear Power Ministry said in Washington last week that some 18,000 scientists from those cities are now unemployed and "there is a risk to lose high-tech experts in this area" to questionable projects.


The United States and Russia last year set up the "nuclear cities initiative" to develop alternative peaceful employment opportunities for these experts.


U.S. officials said some of the new funding would go to this program to dispose of the 50 tons of plutonium, but how much is unclear. Overall, the nuclear cities initiative is aimed at creating up to 50,000 jobs over seven years.