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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Maslyukov Says U.S. Right on Iran Leaks

In a surprising turnabout, First Deputy Prime Minister Yury Maslyukov has admitted that the technologies behind nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles have been leaking out of Russia to Iran and other points foreign as part of a brisk world arms trade.

Maslyukov - a top Russian economic policy-maker whose roots in the military-industrial complex run deep - said on RTR television's Podrobnosti program that American fears about the proliferation of Russia's nuclear secrets and ballistic missile technology were "entirely justified."

Last week the U.S. White House imposed sanctions on several Russian companies and scientific institutes for allegedly exporting weapons technologies to Iran. The U.S. government has also threatened to ban launches of U.S.-made satellites on Russian rockets, a business that annually generates tens of millions of dollars for Russia's cash-starved space industry.

Russian officialdom was unanimous in hotly denying the American allegations - until Wednesday, when Maslyukov said on RTR, "Some of the cases that they [the Americans] have presented have turned out to be true."

That admission comes as the administration of U.S. President Bill Clinton is suddenly talking of pulling out of a 27-year-old treaty that has been a cornerstone of the Cold War-era disarmament process: the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty.

The ABM treaty forbids either Moscow or Washington from developing an umbrella of national defensive missile systems, largely on the grounds that one superpower that felt immune to nuclear attack might be tempted to launch a pre-emptive strike against the other.

But this is an age when full-scale nuclear war between superpowers seems less worrisome than a single warhead on a single missile in the hands of some rogue state or terrorist group.

So suddenly former President Ronald Reagan's "Star Wars" ideal of a missile umbrella is again hot in Washington - where officials have ordered cruise missile attacks in recent months against sites in Iraq, Afghanistan and Sudan, seen terrorist attacks in Sudan and Kenya against U.S. embassies and watched nervously as potential hostile states like Iran and North Korea have made headway developing weapons and missile delivery systems.

Washington officials said this week that Clinton has sent a letter to President Boris Yeltsin requesting amendments to the ABM treaty to allow for limited umbrella missile defenses.

The U.S. defense secretary has already suggested this week that the United States could just pull out of the treaty unilaterally if Yeltsin and the Russian parliament gag on those amendments. Yeltsin has had no public response, but Russian defense officials attacked Clinton's proposal in interviews.

"Once [the Americans] become sure that they can defend themselves effectively from our missiles they will start speaking to us from a position of strength," warned General Yury Lebedev, an expert with the Moscow-based RAU think tank who 10 years ago was the head of the military delegation of the Soviet Union's START I negotiating team.

In addition to scrambling to open an umbrella against the rest of the world, U.S. officials have fought to cut off the rain at its sources. That means Russia - where, according to Maslyukov, representatives of the often-lawless North Caucasus region, and also of other former Soviet republics, are often the middle-men in a world trade in Russian weapons knowledge.

Maslyukov said on RTR that the Americans only know part of the story, saying, "We sometimes catch more [people] red-handed than they do."

The scandal over technology leaks to Iran and the proposals for umbrella defense systems follow on the heels of Clinton's offer in Tuesday's State of the Union speech of financial aid to secure Russian nuclear safety.

All of that will surely be on the table next week when U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright arrives in Moscow. Albright will be meeting with Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and possibly with Yeltsin.

Even as she arrives to discuss these new developments, old business like the START II treaty still languishes before the State Duma.

START II picked up a new opponent Thursday, meanwhile, when Krasnoyarsk governor and former army commander Alexander Lebed wrote in Nezavisimaya Gazeta that the treaty was already too dated. Lebed said Russia and the United States should instead negotiate new, deeper cuts under START III.

Other Russian military experts said neither START II nor III ought to be ratified unless Washington pledges not to undercut the ABM treaty.

"The existing system of international security will be undermined if the Americans walk out of the [ABM] treaty," said Lieutenant General Nikolai Zlenko, deputy head of the Defense Ministry's international affairs department.

"It is the cornerstone that ensures U.S.-Russian parity," Zlenko said, noting that the START I and START II reductions of Russian and U.S. strategic nuclear arsenals "were made possible only thanks to that treaty."

The START I treaty, which was signed in July 1991, reduced nuclear arsenals in the United States and the Soviet Union by more than a third, to a total of about 9,000 warheads on each side.

Under START II, the United States and Russia would further slash their deployed strategic warheads, to a maximum of 3,500 each.

Advocates of START II - including Maslyukov, the Kremlin, and Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev - argue that Russia won't be able to keep up with U.S. arsenals without such a treaty.