Gore’s Secret Pact

From the March 2001 Trumpet Print Edition

In 1995, then U.S. Vice President Al Gore met several times with Russian Prime Minister Victor Chernomyrdin about security issues. At the end of their fifth meeting, they emerged to announce over a dozen agreements, including the fact that Russia would stop signing new conventional weapons contracts with Iran, and that existing contracts between the two would be completed by 1999.

The problem is, Mr. Gore did not reveal all the details of their agreement—not even to Congress. Until the information was leaked to the New York Times last October, no one knew that the deal gave the Russians virtually a carte blanche for delivering arms to Iran until 1999—including weapons that may have triggered U.S. sanctions under the 1992 Iran-Iraq Arms Nonproliferation Act (co-sponsored by, of all people, then Senator Al Gore and Arizona Republican John McCain).

As reported by the Wall Street Journal, in the intervening years Russia has shipped Iran three new Kilo-class submarines—the most advanced in the world today—as well as wake-homing torpedoes designed to sink U.S. aircraft carriers. They’ve also shipped MiG-29 fighter jets, SU-24 fighter bombers, strategic bombers, jet trainers and anti-ballistic missile systems—all without creating so much as a warning blip on U.S. radar screens, thanks to that 1995 deal. “The Gore-Chernomyrdin pact was a coup of major proportions for Moscow” (op. cit., Oct. 18, 2000).

But the “coup” didn’t end there. It turns out Russia never upheld their end of the deal after all. Within a few months of the full ban going into effect, Russia announced that as of December 1, 2000, it would consider the agreement nullified—or, in the words of Iranian Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani, “dead and buried.” Iran celebrated the announcement. Shamkhani said, “It has been proven today that independent countries will choose their partners without taking into account extraneous issues and will decide upon cooperation and expansion of their ties.” By “extraneous issues,” he was certainly referring to pressure from America.

Much to the U.S.’s dismay, Iran-Russia military cooperation is moving ahead full throttle. A December visit to Iran by Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev—the highest-level Russian visit since the Iranian revolution over 20 years ago—signaled this total reversal of Russia’s Iran policy. Even Russian President Vladimir Putin is proposing a “strategic alliance” with Iran, in sharp contrast with the cautious stance of former President Boris Yeltsin.

The potential value of new weapons deals are estimated at between $1 billion and $7 billion, and will surely result in a quantum leap in Iran’s arms procurement. Economically struggling Russia is more than happy to soak up extra capital from Iran’s booming $20 billion annual oil business.

As for the 1995 agreement, it was Russian nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovskiy who put the final nail in its coffin. Visiting Iran on February 1, he said that Chernomyrdin should stand trial for signing the deal. He publicly asked this chilling question: “While Pakistan, India and Israel have atomic weapons and certain other countries are close to achieving such weapons, why not Iran?”