Russian missile manufacturers provided goods to Iran’s ballistic missile program, but U.S. intelligence agencies claim the proliferation is not part of an official Moscow policy of backing Tehran weapons programs.
The unclassified assessment by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence was sent in April to Congress following a request from Capitol Hill to explain the current state of Moscow-Tehran missile trade. The new intelligence on the missile trade could trigger sanctions under the Iran, North Korea, and Syria sanctions law or limit U.S. government interaction with Moscow.
"We assess that individual entities have provided assistance to Iran’s ballistic missile programs," the DNI statement by legislative director Kathleen Turner said.
The new assessment differs from an earlier intelligence statement supplied to Congress that was more categorical on the transfers and did not contain legalistic references included in an apparent effort to avoid linking the Russian government to recent missile-related transfers.
The assessment could affect a requested presidential waiver sought by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration that is needed prior to the next U.S. payment to Russia for the International Space Station.
A State Department official said the Russia-Iran missile trade has not been raised in recent meetings between U.S. and Russian officials.
Current law requires the president to certify that it is Russia’s policy to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear and missile technology and systems.
"NASA wants another waiver to allow us to make payments to Moscow for the International Space Station, but the president cannot certify that Russia has a policy to prevent their own assistance to Iran's missiles, to say nothing of the nuclear program, and what's going on in Syria," said a congressional aide close to the issue.
The waiver is required under the nonproliferation law before any payments can be made.
Additionally, the administration is pressing Congress to pass permanent normal trade relations legislation for Russia, raising further questions that the administration is ignoring Russian arms proliferation to Tehran.
"What message will all this send to Putin," the aide said. "I think we know: The Obama administration reset cancer is now metastatic to all U.S. policy."
The statement concludes that, while it is not official Russian policy to assist Iran’s missile programs, Moscow is incapable of implementing a policy to halt such exports or prevent state-owned arms manufacturers from assisting Iran, the aide said.
The assessment appears to be in line with President Obama’s conciliatory policies toward Russia. The president was overheard during a conversation with then-Russian President Dmitri Medvedev in March as telling the Russians not to pressure him during the current election campaign. Obama promised "more flexibility" in stalled talks on missile defenses after his presumed reelection, according to the conversation that was recorded by television cameras.
According to the DNI, currently headed by James Clapper, the U.S. intelligence community "assesses that Moscow almost certainly is not pursuing an official policy of providing support to Iran’s ballistic missile program," although it did not explain why, since all Russian weapons exports are under the control of the state-run arm exporter Rosoboronexport.
The assessment went on to state that Moscow has "taken steps to improve controls on ballistic missile technology and its record of export enforcement—though still mixed—has improved over the last decade."
"Russian space entities have entered into agreements with Iran but Moscow almost certainly views commercial space-related ventures with Iran as consistent with its obligations under the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR)."
The MTCR is a loose-knit arms control accord that limits states that adhere to its provisions from exporting missiles with ranges greater than 300 kilometers and the capability of carrying warheads heavier than 500 kilograms.
The congressional aide said the DNI statement is related to the Iran, North Korea, and Syria Nonproliferation Act that is designed to punish arms proliferators that supply nuclear and missile goods to those states.
An initial 2005 version of the law outlined Russian support for Iran’s nuclear and strategic missile programs.
A CIA-drafted report to Congress made public earlier this year said Iran’s missile arsenal is "one of the largest in the Middle East" and includes an array of short- and medium-range missiles. Iran continues work on long-range missiles.
"Entities in China and Russia along with North Korea are among likely suppliers," the report said, noting that Tehran remains "dependent on foreign suppliers for some key missile components."
Classified cables made public by Wikileaks reveal extensive efforts by Iran to obtain missile technology from Russia, as well as other European and Asian states.
In one case in February 2009, the Russian firm Crystaltechno Ltd. worked to buy a German-origin, single-axis turntable for Iran's defense industry-related Malek-Ashtar University of Technology. The machine can be used to test gyroscopes and micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) sensors used in missile guidance and navigation systems.
In 2008, U.S. sanctions were imposed on Rosoboronexport, the state arms exporter, for sales of TOR-M1 air defense missiles to Iran. Four Russian arms makers were sanctioned in 2007 for weapons transfers to Iran.
A December 2006 cable said Russian arms broker Aleksey Safonov transferred a shipment of Russian-origin VG-951 fiber optic and MG-4 dynamically tuned gyroscopes, A-16 accelerometers, and other guidance, navigation, and control equipment to the Iranian missile entity Fadjr Industries Group in 2005.
Meanwhile, a senior House Republican is calling on the president to explain efforts by the administration to reach an agreement with Moscow on missile defenses.
"There is still a great deal of concern about what you meant when you were overheard during a recent meeting in Seoul with Russia’s former President Dmitri Medvedev, that after this election, your ‘last election,’ you ‘would have greater flexibility’ to make a deal with Russia concerning U.S. missile defenses," said Rep. Michael R. Turner, chairman of the House Armed Services subcommittee on strategic forces, which oversees missile defense programs.
"What is it you and your administration are concerned the American people would object to in such a deal with Russia?" Turner asked. "Would it be limitations, unilateral or bilateral, with Russia on the speed, range, or geographical deployment of U.S. missile defense interceptors?"
Turner also asked the president in a May 23 letter to explain plans for up to an 80 percent cut in deployed U.S. nuclear warheads as part of the nearly completed Nuclear Posture Review implementation study.
"Many in Congress, me included, are deeply troubled that you may be willing to further trade or give away U.S. missile defenses to get closer to your goal of a world without nuclear weapons," Turner said.
Turner called on the president to make public several draft missile defense agreements with the Russians that have been reported in news accounts but which remain secret.
"Such transparency would be the best way to resolve concerns in the Congress about your statement to President Medvedev … about your intentions for missile defense," Turner said.
Ellen Tauscher, the administration’s special envoy for missile defense, has denied any secret agreements with Russia—draft or otherwise—exist.
However, U.S. officials said Tauscher drafted an agreement meant to be signed by Obama and Medvedev at the 2011 summit meeting in Deauville, France, that was withdrawn from consideration by White House lawyers amid concerns that the draft contained legally binding constraints on U.S. missile defenses.
Russia is demanding the U.S. government provide written legal assurances that U.S. missile defenses planned for Europe are not intended for use against Russian missiles, something the Pentagon has refused over concerns that it would limit U.S. sovereign rights of defense.