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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EDITORIAL: U.S. Threats Of Sanctions Are Reckless

The United States should produce evidence of Russian complicity in the development of Iranian weapons of mass destruction before making ugly threats against crucial Russian interests.

That is what the United States has just done by threatening to restrict Russia's access to the international satellite launch market - which is worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year to Russia's cash-starved space industry.

The United States says it will cut back on Russia's quota of international launches if Russia does not stop cooperating with Iranian weapons programs.

No one denies that it would be a bad thing if Iran, an unstable regime in an unstable region, got hold of weapons of mass destruction.

The trouble with the U.S. position is that Russia is ostensibly already doing all that can be expected of it to squelch cooperation with Iran.

Russian law specifically forbids the transfer of missile or nuclear technology to Iran. The Pentagon itself admits that Russia has no official policy of helping Iran. All that may be happening is that Iran is trying to suborn some Russian scientists or factories to provide technology.

The United States says that Russia is not doing enough to stop this. Russia says it is doing all that can be done. Indeed, the Federal Security Bureau, or FSB, while admitting that some technology was leaked in 1994 and 1995, says it has shut down all such activity.

Even if some Iranian espionage has gotten past the FSB, it would be minor and disorganized. And the United States has produced no evidence that it exists at all.

The current U.S. intransigence seems to be related not so much to any specific technology transfer as to a U.S. perception that the FSB is not cooperating as closely as it should with the CIA on Iran.

Perhaps this is a reflection of the chillier U.S.-Russia relations since Yevgeny Primakov, the Arabist and former Cold Warrior, became prime minister. Russia's construction of a civilian nuclear power plant for Iran is also an irritant.

But before the United States takes the outrageous step of doing serious harm to a huge industry and possibly throwing tens of thousands Russian scientists out of work, it should produce at least some evidence.

Previously, the United States had implicitly admitted the weakness of its case by only threatening sanctions against specific institutes and factories. Since most of these had no contact with the United States, these sanctions were little more than symbolic. But the threat to halt satellite launches is real and devastating. It is reckless.