Hamilton Defends Gore Over Arms

Thursday, October 26th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) — The former chairman of the House International Relations Committee says Vice President Al Gore fully briefed Congress on Russian arms sales to Iran and that Gore's critics on the issue are playing politics and harming U.S. national security.

Former Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., stepped into the dispute with a statement as the Clinton administration denied Gore made a secret agreement allowing Russia to continue selling arms to Iran without triggering U.S. sanctions against Russia.

The understanding Gore reached in 1995 with then-Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin of Russia limited the sale of nuclear and conventional weapons technology to Iran and was in America's national security interest, Hamilton said.

As chairman then of the House committee, Hamilton said he and his staff were briefed four times on Gore's talks with the Russians. ``I believe the administration was forthcoming in making information available to the Congress on these critical issues,'' Hamilton said.

Calling recent publicity about the U.S. understandings with Russia unfortunate, he said: ``It threatens to undermine our nation's efforts to prevent further sales of advanced arms by Russia to Iran.''

These efforts, Hamilton said, have succeeded in stopping new arms deals since 1995. ``Politicizing this issue in the midst of the presidential campaign does not enhance America's national security,'' he said.

Other Democrats have said allegations that Gore made a secret pact with Chernomyrdin and kept it from Congress were nothing more than a campaign ploy by Republicans to embarrass Gore, the Democratic presidential nominee.

At a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee hearing Wednesday, John P. Barker, deputy assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation control, said: ``Playing this out in the press can only have a chilling effect on our ability to continue (nonproliferation efforts) and could seriously undermine the U.S. national security interests at stake.''

Eleven former top U.S. officials, including four former secretaries of state, issued a statement this week saying they were ``deeply disturbed'' by Gore's agreement with Chernomyrdin and that Gore, apparently at the prime minister's request, kept the terms from Congress.