June 6, 2002
A Nuclear Iran: Still the Greatest Threat
President Bush has just completed a historic series of meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In Moscow, and a few days later in Italy, they signed accords to reduce each nation's nuclear stockpiles and increase Russian cooperation with NATO. Much was accomplished, but a major item was left on the negotiating table: Russia's continuing assistance to Iran's nuclear and missile programs.
Recent intelligence assessments have estimated that Iran could develop nuclear weapons within three to five years. Transfers of technology and expertise from entities in Russia are also enabling Iran to accelerate its missile, chemical and biological weapons programs.
Among the examples of this cooperation: The development of the Shahab-3 missile, capable of traveling 800 miles and hitting Israel, which was aided by inclusion of Russian engines, guidance systems and warhead technologies; and support for the longer-range Shahab-4 missile, capable of hitting Turkey, a NATO ally.
Preventing the proliferation of these technologies must be a top priority in the war against terrorism. Five years ago, this issue was already high on Israel's security agenda. At that time, I helped to lead efforts in Congress to have the U.S. sanction Russian companies that violate international nonproliferation standards.
We have since made some progress on this front. For example, last year, as a member of a congressional delegation to Russia, I met with members of the Russian Space Agency and found that by offering the Russians support on projects such as the International Space Station, we provide them incentives not to transfer missile technology to Iran.
But we need to do much more.
Iran poses a grave threat to the United States, to her allies in the region, such as Israel, and to Russia herself. While Iran has opened its political system to limited domestic reform, its foreign policy remains as virulent as ever. Iran remains committed to the destruction of Israel. Its support for terrorists makes it a threat to the entire world.
Bush raised the issue of proliferation, but Putin reportedly argued that Russia's support for the Iranian program is comparable to U.S. aid to North Korea's nuclear program. It is not.
The U.S. supports construction of two light water nuclear reactors in North Korea as an incentive for that nation to abandon its nuclear weapons program. Our cooperation is contingent upon strict verification and accountability, and so far we have been successful. Russia, on the other hand, provides Iran funding, training and materials that could easily be diverted to a weapons program.
Not only does Iran pursue the development of weapons of mass destruction, but its support for terrorists is well-documented. These efforts most recently came to light last December in the scandal surrounding the Karine-A shipment of 50 tons of illegal arms, provided by Iran, to the Palestinian Authority. Iran has also increased its support for Hezbollah, supplying terrorists in Lebanon over 8,000 rockets capable of reaching heavily populated areas in Israel. If Iran had nuclear weapons, what kind of support would it be giving terrorists?
Time is running out, and without a sustained and meaningful effort on the part of the Russian government to stop dangerous exports now, we will soon be faced with a vastly more threatening security problem in an area vital to our own strategic interests.