WASHINGTON (AP) â€” The chairmen of both foreign affairs committees in Congress, joined by other Republicans, told the Clinton administration Thursday to turn over all documents related to a 1995 agreement with Russia to exempt certain arms sales to Iran from U.S. sanctions.
Administration officials have said that the only agreements made between Vice President Al Gore and Russia's then-prime minister were announced at the time. But some documents pertaining to the deal remain classified, the administration contends, and publicizing them could jeopardize U.S. efforts to curtail nuclear proliferation.
``This is simply unacceptable,'' Sen. Jesse Helms, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and nine other senators said in a letter to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Among signers were Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., and former presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
``In essence, you are saying to the Congress and the American people: `Trust us.' Considering ... that almost everything we have learned about this secret deal has come from the news media and not the administration, we respectfully decline.''
The letter gave Albright until noon Monday to produce ``all the relevant documents.'' Otherwise, it said, the committee will subpoena them.
On the House side, Rep. Benjamin A. Gilman of New York said his International Relations Committee wants all documents that might shed light on the deal.
``We want all the documents ... and don't have any as yet,'' said Gilman while leaving a closed-door briefing on the agreement between Gore and then-Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin.
Democrats charged again that the allegations are an example of Republican pre-election politicking.
The head of the House International Relations Committee at the time, former Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., said the deal was not kept a secret.
At issue is a 1995 agreement under which Russia pledged not to enter into any new contracts to sell Iran conventional weapons, but was allowed to continue with delivery on existing contracts until 1999.
In return, the United States agreed not to sanction Russia under a 1992 nonproliferation law co-sponsored by Gore and McCain that bans weapons sales to Iran and other states that are viewed as sponsors of terrorism.
Republicans have charged that Congress was not told of the deal and that Russia should have been subject to sanctions on the sales, which they say included a submarine, fighter planes and torpedoes.
``We want to know why sanctions were not enforced,'' Gilman said. ``We are just beginning to dig into this.''
The senior Democratic member of the committee, Rep. Sam Gejdenson of Connecticut, dismissed the issue as an attack on Gore just before the election â€” as has the Gore campaign.
Gejdenson said the agreement with Russia was ``clearly in America's best interest.''
``I think this is clearly about the election and not about policy,'' he said.
The private briefing for House committee members followed an open hearing Wednesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, at which the State Department's deputy assistant secretary for nonproliferation, John P. Barker, said there was no secret agreement.
While specific documents remain classified, he said, the gist of it was announced publicly in 1995 and Congress was briefed.
``A partisan brawl that drags legitimately classified material into the newspapers as photo insets can only benefit Iran,'' he said in a prepared text entered into the record but not read aloud at Wednesday's hearing.
State Department officials also said the weapons sold did not fall in the category of those that would trigger sanctions under the 1992 law.
After that hearing, senators went into a closed session. They said afterward that administration officials refused in the session to allow them to see either the agreement or a list of weapons Russia was allowed to sell.
Meanwhile, Hamilton said Thursday he and his staff were briefed on the agreement four times while he was chairman of the House committee.
``Politicizing this issue in the midst of the presidential campaign does not enhance America's national security,'' he said.
``It threatens to undermine our nation's efforts to prevent further sales of advanced arms by Russia to Iran.''
Earlier in the week, 11 former top U.S. officials, including four former Republican secretaries of state, issued a statement saying they were ``deeply disturbed'' by the agreement.
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House Committee on International Relations: http://www.house.gov/internationalâ€”relations/
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