RUSSIA COULD LOSE MONEY FOR SPACE
THE ORLANDO SENTINEL
February 24, 2000 Thursday, METRO
By Tamara Lytle, Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON - The United States could cut off the flow of money to Russia for the international space station if that country's weapons technology ends up in Iran.
The space station is the main project that would suffer if the Senate on Thursday approves a bill, already passed unanimously by the House, to enforce the action. President Clinton had considered vetoing the bill, but Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., said Tuesday that the president no longer plans to do so.
The measure would have much less impact on NASA and its prized space station now than if it had passed several years ago when first proposed. Much of the cash going to Russia for space station parts and services already has been spent. On the line still is $35 million that NASA requested this year to buy parts from Russia and possibly tens of millions more to buy a Soyuz capsule for emergency escape.
Since 1995, the United States already has pumped $540 million into the Russian Space Agency for goods and services for the station and a cooperative venture aboard Russia's Mir station.
The international space station is an orbiting laboratory being assembled in space. Ever since Russia was added to the partnership in 1993, Republicans have complained that U.S. taxpayers have gotten stuck funding a bad idea. The Clinton administration has pushed Russian involvement as a way to keep that country's rocket scientists from working for emerging powers seeking nuclear technology.
"The Clinton administration's policy has been predicated on the assumption Russians are more interested in selling stuff to rich people than poor people, and that they know which side their bread is buttered on, and that the one hand keeps track of what the other hand is doing," said John Pike, space science director of the American Federation of Scientists. "It's mainly turned out to be true. But it hasn't turned out to be completely true."
Republicans, starting with Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, said during debate this week that the leaking of technology to countries such as Iran is a major threat to the United States.
Iran is a sponsor of terrorism and an opponent of peace in the Middle East, Lott said. Although a vote this month favored a more democratic parliament, "the danger is still there," Lott said.
The bill makes it clear that Russia and other countries must stop the flow of technology for weapons of mass destruction, Lott said. Otherwise, Iran may be able to develop missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads onto U.S. soil.
Kenneth Timmerman of the independent consulting group Middle East Data Project warned Congress during hearings of the technology leaks.
"For the better part of a decade, Russia has been training an entire generation of Iranian weapons designers," he said during congressional hearings. "This has been a conscious policy decision on the part of the Russian government - not some ad-hoc arrangement by unemployed scientists."
The bill applies to all foreign programs, but it singles out the space station.