Monday, November 29, 1999

Russia "schizophrenic" on Iran - U.S. defence secretary

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Russia's approach to Iran has been "schizophrenic," pursuing commercial ties while acknowledging that a nuclear-armed Tehran would pose a major security threat, the U.S. defense secretary said on Thursday.Russia voted in favor of a fourth round of U.N. sanctions against Tehran because of its nuclear program this month. But Moscow signaled on Thursday its support had limits, criticizing the United States and the European Union for imposing additional sanctions beyond those approved by the U.N. Security Council.U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, testifying before a congressional committee, acknowledged one lawmaker's concerns about Russia's long-standing commercial links to Tehran."You've just put your finger on a kind of schizophrenic Russian approach to this," Gates told the Senate Armed Services Committee."When I was in Moscow three years ago, then-President Putin told me that he considered Iran Russia's greatest national security threat ... and yet they have these commercial interests in Iran that go back more than 20 years."During a 1992 trip to Moscow, Gates as then-head of the CIA, said he raised questions about Russia's support for an Iranian nuclear reactor. Gates said his Russian counterpart at the time replied: "It's all about the money.""So I think that it is this balancing act. And Russia, they recognize the security threat that Iran presents," Gates said."But then there are these commercial opportunities, which, frankly, are not unique to them and Europe,"Earlier in the same hearing, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she was pleased about a Russian decision to freeze delivery of S-300 missiles to Iran, announced earlier this month.The United States and Israel have long fiercely opposed a sale of the defensive missile system because it could give Iran the means to withstand air strikes aimed at knocking out its nuclear sites.Clinton said she was not sure if Russia had officially canceled the contract."What they said is that they would not deliver the system. So, is that cancellation? Or is that an indefinite suspension? Either way, it's good news because they will not deliver the system," Clinton said.(Reporting by Phil Stewart, Adam Entous and Andrew Quinn; Editing by Bill Trott)

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