Russia freezes laser deal with Iran

MOSCOW, Reuters

Russia has frozen a contract to sell laser equipment to Iran because of U.S. concern about technology transfers to the Islamic republic, a Russian government official said on Thursday.

Russia’s Atomic Energy Ministry announced the freeze two days after a White House spokesman said that Moscow had suspended the deal at U.S. President Bill Clinton’s urging because of concern that the equipment could help Tehran produce nuclear weapons.

“As regards the laser equipment at issue, a freeze has been placed on the contract in question with Iran,” Ministry spokesman Yuri Bespalko said by telephone.

“We believe the equipment intended for Iran does not fall under the limitations of international export regulations. But, given the sensitive nature of the issue, especially on the part of the United States, for the moment the question is being dealt with by two commissions — one Russian, one American.”

The two commissions, he said, were expected to present their conclusions soon.

In St. Petersburg, Russia’s second city, the head of the institute due to supply the equipment said that it produced isotopes for medical use and slammed the U.S. stance.

“They (the United States) are linking this to production of nuclear weapons but in essence this is a fight for markets,” Boris Yatsenko, director of the Science and Technology Center of Microtechnology in St. Petersburg, said by telephone.