News of a secret agreement signed by Vice President Al Gore and then-Russian Prime Minister, Viktor Chernomyrdin was met by a deafening silence, helping to shield Gore from being identified with a major new scandal. The Senate planned hearings on this agreement to enable Russia to ship conventional weapons and nuclear technology to a nation high on the State Department list of those engaged in state sponsored terrorism. In addition, the letter specifically stated that its contents would not be conveyed to the U.S. Congress.
This story should have strongly impacted the presidential race between Gore and Governor Bush. It broke on Friday, the 13th, when the New York Times ran a front page story that Gore had signed this agreement in 1995 without telling Congress, in violation of several laws, including the underlying Iran-Iraq Arms Nonproliferation Act, known, ironically as the Gore-McCain act, after its chief sponsors.
The agreement allowed Russia to fulfill existing contracts with Iran, including submarines, torpedoes, anti-ship mines and tanks. One is left to wonder if part of the shipment may have been involved in the recent act of war against the U.S.S. Cole, killing seventeen Americans in the port of Aden. According to Senator McCain, who only found out about this when the New York Times reported it, after, they said, copies of the letter and related classified documents were provided to them by a concerned government official.
In addition, the agreement calls for Russia and the U.S. to seek to prevent the “undermining of the nuclear arms non-proliferation program,” yet it says that Moscow will continue to build a nuclear reactor, train the technicians in Russia, and deliver nuclear fuel to Iran through the year 2011. This clause, according to Bill Gertz of the Washington Times, “appears to violate a provision of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Act, which requires the Clinton administration to keep Congressional oversight committees fully informed of all issues related to nuclear weapons proliferation”.
Even Gore’s chief foreign policy adviser, Leon Fuerth, admitted that Russia had failed to live up to its promise to not deliver any more weapons to Iran after the cutoff date of December 31st, 1999, and called it a “unilateral decision by the Russians to modify the terms of this understanding,” which has to rank as classic Clinton-Gore-speak for downplaying a potentially major scandal.
We have seen no coverage of this story on any of the three major broadcast network news, and other than the Washington Times, we have seen virtually no follow-up to the original New York Times story. A Wall Street Journal op ed piece by Bush’s senior foreign policy adviser argues that this is part of the pattern of Gore’s foreign policy experience. The Russians are able to thumb their nose at the U.S., and violate this agreement, because the Clinton administration is held hostage to its own agreement, since it had never been released. We can only imagine the storm over this if this had been done by a Republican administration.