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The Failure of the MTCR in the Middle East

Gerald Steinberg

Bar Ilan University, Ramat Gan, Israel


Published in Ballistic Missiles: The Threat and the Response,

Edited by Arieh Stav, Brassey’s, London, 1999, pp. 149-170








In the Middle East, the efforts to obtain access to ballistic missiles and related technology began in the 1950s, when Egyptian President Nasser employed East German scientists who had been associated with the Nazi V-2 program. This triggered an Israeli response in kind, and the first “missile race” in the region. At the time, these efforts (particularly the Egyptian program) did not make significant progress.  For most of the 1960s and 1970s, the military forces in the region were limited to short range tactical and battlefield missiles such as the Russian FROG 7 (70 km) and the American Lance (130km).

The programs aimed at acquiring longer range missiles continued, and in the 1970s, a number of Arab states, including Egypt, Iraq, Syria, and Libya obtained Scud-B missiles from the Soviet Union.  These were still considered to be relatively short range missiles (under 300 km), and their capabilities were limited.  During this period, Egypt shipped a Soviet SCUD-B to North Korea, providing the Pyongyang government with the model for producing its own SCUD-Bs.[1]  On this basis, and in partnership with Egypt, North Korea was able to produce longer range missiles, leading to the SCUD-C (range 500 km ) and, more recently, the No-Dong 1 (range  1000 km) and No-Dong 2 (1500-2000 km).

Other states in the region also sought longer range missile delivery systems. In the mid-1970s, Libya funded the activities of OTRAG (another German group, operating out of Africa) in the development of missile technology. In 1981, OTRAG tested a missile in Libya.[2]  In the Condor program, Egypt and Iraq joined (or rather, used) Argentina in order to  obtain missile technology from the US and from Western Europe.  During its lengthy war with Iran, Iraq was able to increase the range of its SCUD-Bs missiles, and later, during the 1991 Gulf War, used the Al-Hussein to hit targets in Israel (at a distance of over 600 kilometers) and Saudi Arabia. 

More recently, Iran obtained SCUD-Cs and accelerated its program to develop and produce longer range systems, based on Russian, Chinese and North Korean technology and engineers.  If successful, such systems reach ranges of up to 3000 kilometers, reaching as far as Western Europe.  During this period, the Syrian military also acquired and deployed advanced missiles, including SCUD-Bs, Soviet made SS-21s, and SCUD-Cs.  Military cooperation between Syria and Iran extends to missile development, so that as the level of Iranian capability increases, Syrian missile capabilities will follow suit.

The dangers posed by these weapons is largely the result of their capability to deliver weapons of mass destruction at ranges of between 300 to 3000 kilometers.  Most of these states (Egypt, Libya, Syria, and Iraq) are known to possess large stockpiles of chemical weapons, and some, such as Iraq, possess or are seeking biological weapons.  Iran and Iraq have ongoing efforts to obtain nuclear weapons, and the other members of this “club” have also sought such warheads.


In the past decades, supplier controls have become the first line of defense in the effort to block the proliferation of non-conventional weapons, including ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction.  The first steps in this direction were taken in the 1970s, with the first elements in what later became the Nuclear Supplier’s Group (also known as the London group), and later expanded to include similar arrangements with respect to chemical weapons (the Australia Group).  In parallel, the United States Congress enacted a series of unilateral export control limitations, with sanctions for violations of these controls.

With respect to missile proliferation, the Missile Technology Control Regime constitutes a “voluntary nonproliferation arrangement”, as it is described in a recent Pentagon report.[3]  In the early 1970s, the proliferation of ballistic missiles began to be seen as a major threat to global as well as regional stability and security.  Although weapons of mass destruction can be delivered by a number of systems, including conventional aircraft, surface vehicles, and naval vessels, ballistic missile provide greater range, traverse large distances much more quickly, and, in contrast to the other delivery systems, there are, as yet, no effective defenses against ballistic missiles.  As US government officials noted, the “speed and surprise” that can be achieved with missiles were “far greater than that achievable with manned aircraft.”[4]

During the late 1970s, the US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency sponsored the initial examination of policy options, and these later became the basis for negotiations between the Reagan Administration and the other members of the G-7 (the group of seven major industrial states).[5]  In 1987, these negotiations resulted in what is official terms a “non-binding voluntary arrangement” that is “designed to limit the risk of nuclear proliferation by controlling the transfer of equipment and technology that could contribute to the development and production of nuclear-capable, unmanned delivery systems.”[6]  Under its original terms, the MTCR covered missiles capable of delivering a payload of 500 kilograms or more to distances of or greater than 300 kilometers.  These parameters reflected the minimum weight of an unsophisticated nuclear warhead, and the “strategic distances in the most compact theaters where nuclear-armed missile might be used.”[7] 

In the Middle East, these distances, and even smaller ranges, are indeed of strategic significance, and missiles or other means of delivery with ranges of under 300 kilometers are classified as strategic systems.  As noted, the MTCR was initially prompted by American concerns regarding the potential for missile proliferation among the pariah states in the Middle East, such as Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Libya.

The initial MTCR arrangement included an annex consisting of two categories which attempted to specify those technologies to be controlled, based on equipment and materials “relevant to missile development, production and operation.”[8] Under Category I, those items that were directly and clearly related to rapid missile proliferation were included, as well as related production facilities for these systems.[9] Category II consisted of “dual-use” technologies, whose application to missile production was possible.[10]

The proliferation of chemical and biological capabilities led to increased concern regarding the potential use of ballistic missiles for delivering CBW, and in 1993, the MTCR limits were extended to cover delivery systems for all forms of weapons of mass destruction.  In addition, the detailed listing of prohibited technologies was supplemented by an agreement that members would base their policies on a “strong presumption” to deny an export request if the technology in question is “intended” for use in a system to deliver weapons of mass destruction.   Since chemical and biological warheads would be effective in missiles with shorter ranges and smaller payloads, this meant that additional systems below the initial 500 kg., 300 km limits were now formally included in the MTCR controls.  In addition, the extended definition went beyond ballistic missiles to include remotely-piloted vehicles and other potential delivery systems for non-conventional weapons.[11]



From the beginning, the expectations from the MTCR exceeded the real impact, which was quite limited, particularly in the area of prime importance -- the Middle East.  In 1988, American concerns focused on the Condor II/Badr-2000 missile project, which involved Argentina, Egypt, and Iraq, and was designed to produce a missile with a range of up to 1,000 km. Bowen reports that “In July 1988, American intelligence revealed that the ultimate goal of the Argentine project was to provide Iraq and Egypt with 200 missiles each.”[12]  The technology for this project originated in Western Europe, where enforcement of export controls has been traditionally very weak, and the new MTCR guidelines were no exception.[13]  The pursuit of additional profits through the sale of dangerous weapons and dual-use technologies to pariah states took precedence over ethical norms, strategic interests and the threats of warfare and the use of weapons of mass destruction. German firms provided facilities and materials for chemical weapons, the Iraqi nuclear program, and missile technology, and the British exported components for Saddam Hussein’s “supergun” project.[14]

In the United States, at the beginning, enforcement of the MTCR requirements was also problematic and inconsistent.  Despite declarations regarding an embargo on the sale of weapons and dual-use technologies  to Iraq, American firms also sold systems, including computers to Saddam Hussein. After the establishment of the MTCR, the US Commerce Department continued to provide export licenses for technology on the MTCR list of controlled items.  For example, in January 1989, a Pentagon official reported that two years of efforts “to have Commerce control rocket propellant batch mixers under the MTCR” had failed to produce results.[15] The US government licensed the transfer of highly sophisticated technology from Hewlett-Packard, Honeywell, Rockwell, and Tektronix for sale to Saddam Hussein's government.  This technology was reportedly used in the Saad-16 complex where Iraq developed the technology and produced the extended-range Scud-B missiles that were fired at Israeli cities during the war.[16]

In addition, China and the Soviet Union were major sources of concern (and ballistic missile technology).  At the time, these states were outside the framework of the MTCR.  In March 1988, it was revealed that Beijing had sold a number of long range ballistic missiles (2,700 km-range DF-3 or CSS-2 IRBMs) to Saudi Arabia.[17]  Thus, it became clear that in addition to tightened implementation in Europe and the United States, unless the MTCR was extended to include Beijing and Moscow, its effectiveness would be minimal.

These deficiencies led to a major American-led effort to broaden membership and scope, as well as to tighten compliance with the MTCR. In order to increase coordination and make this “voluntary arrangement” more visible to policy makers in Europe, a permanent MTCR Secretariat  was established in Paris.[18]  The US government also pressured the states that were continuing to export technology related to missile development, both those within the MTCR structure, such as Italy and West Germany, and those outside of this structure, such as China and Russia.[19]  These states were continuing to provide technology for the Condor II program as well as to the independent Iraqi missile production effort. [20]

At the same time, revelations that the US Commerce Department had failed to prevent, and in some cases, encouraged the transfer of sensitive equipment and dual-use technology related to missile development to Iraq led to demands for greater controls in the US.[21]  This led to congressional intervention, and in December 1990, Congress passed the Enhanced Proliferation Control Initiative (EPCI), which required the U.S. Government to impose sanctions on American or foreign “persons, companies, or any other entities that participated in MTCR- prohibited activities.”[22]  (The Bush administration opposed the 1990 EPCI measure, citing “the need to maintain flexibility in U.S. foreign policy and to balance competing national interests”[23], but it became law despite these objections.)



On paper, the MTCR is often portrayed as a major success.  As of December 1997, the MTCR included 31 states, including the United States, Canada, NATO and European Union countries, Russia, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Brazil, and Hungary.  In a study entitled "Emerging Missile Threats to North America During the next Fifteen Years" (National Intelligence Estimate 95-19), the Clinton Administration concluded that "no country, other than the major declared nuclear powers, will develop or otherwise acquire a ballistic missile in the next fifteen years that could threaten the contiguous 48 states and Canada."[24] The authors triumphantly declared that since each of the countries possessing intercontinental-range ballistic missiles (ICBM) had joined the MTCR or agreed to abide by the regime's guidelines, and since the leaders of these states recognize that the transfer of an ICBM would show blatant disregard for the regime, the danger had subsided. The report concluded that the MTCR has significantly limited the availability of missiles and related components and technology and that it will "continue to serve as a substantial barrier to countries interested in acquiring ballistic missiles."[25]

However, success is not measured by the number of signatories, but rather by the degree to which this regime has been able to block the transfer of missile technology. Another US government agency, the General Accounting Office reported that the earlier report had misrepresented “implicit critical assumptions” as “fact-based judgments.”   Bowen reports that “In December 1996, an independent non- governmental panel of experts led by the former Central Intelligence Agency Director Robert Gates [concluded] that the estimate had placed ‘too much of a burden’ on the regime ‘as a means of limiting the flow of the missile technology to rogue states.’”[26]  This panel noted that while the MTCR had been a “positive influence” in restraining proliferation, the voluntary nature of the regime and the fact that “each country makes its own decisions” led to significant deviations and failures.[27]

As noted above, the MTCR, like the London Nuclear Suppliers Group, has had some success and some notable failures.  This agreement had some immediate impact in the South America and the Middle East by effectively ending the Condor II/Badr 2000 missile project, and China reportedly canceled an agreement to sell M-9 missiles sought by Syria. 

The MTCR, however, was not effective in preventing Iraq from manufacturing and modifying Scud-B missiles, which were used against Israel and Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War, and which were capable of carrying Iraqi chemical warheads.  MTCR signatories such as Germany, Britain, and the U.S. were instrumental in the development of the Iraqi missile program, and the U.S. even provided loan guarantees which were applied to these purchases.[28]  However, the most notable holes in the fabric of the MTCR are caused by the continued export of missile-related technology by Russia, China, and North Korea, primarily to Iran.



From the first stages of the MTCR, the Soviet Union was viewed as a major problem state, which continued to export ballistic missiles and related technologies to its client states.  However, as the USSR began to weaken, the US intensified the pressure for clear demonstrations indicating a willingness to accept the limitations on advanced weapons and dual-use technologies.  In June 1990, the Bush Administration gained an oral pledge from Moscow to adhere to the MTCR guidelines.[29]  However, this declaration was not backed by substantial policy changes.  In November 1990, five months after declaring adherence to the MTCR guidelines, the Russian Space Agency signed an agreement to supply cryogenic rocket engines and the associated production technology to the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), in clear violation of the MTCR[30]  In response to Congressional pressure, the US imposed sanctions on the Russian and Indian firms involved in this transactions, in the effort to press the Russians to end such exports and to comply with the MTCR.

In 1993, the Clinton Administration inherited this situation, and subsequently made additional moves aimed at strengthening the MTCR. In September 1993, Russia again agreed to “abide by MTCR guidelines”, and in response,  the Clinton Administration removed the sanctions, thereby allowing Russian firms to participate in tenders for commercial satellite launches in the US.[31]  When this “agreement” also proved to be unreliable, following Russian sales of space and missile-related technology to Brazil, the Clinton Administration was again forced to go to Moscow for “an explanation”.

Similarly, Russia also began cooperation with Iran ostensibly for development of a space launcher. In 1993, the Russian ambassador to Iran announced that the two countries had signed an agreement under which Russia would assist Iran in developing a space research program.[32] (This coincided with agreements covering the export of Russian nuclear technology, including the sale of a gas centrifuge uranium enrichment plant and assistance in completion of the nuclear power reactors that had been initiated by the Shah in the 1970s using German technology.  The uranium enrichment project was eventually canceled, but the other aspects of nuclear cooperation continue.)

As a result, negotiations between Washington and Moscow resumed. A joint forum for monitoring and discussion of issues related to transfer of non-conventional weapons technology was created (the Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission), and following its first meeting in June 1995, an agreement was reached in which Russian pledged to end these sales to Iran.[33]  In June 1995, Russia formally acceded to the MTCR, promising to “cease such transfers in the future”. [34]

Ignoring the experience of the Bush administration with respect to similar Russian pledges, or perhaps concluding that formal entry into the club would change Moscow’s behavior, the Clinton Administration presented a very optimistic picture of the potential for ending most avenues for missile proliferation.

However, the export of materials and know-how continued.  In late 1995, gyroscopes and accelerometers designed for Russian-made-submarine-launched ballistic missiles were intercepted in Jordan en route to Iraq.[35]  In 1996 and 1997, additional evidence emerged demonstrating that the Russians were continuing to sell missile-related technology to Iran.  (This apparently coincided with the appointment of Yevgeny Primakov, a hard-liner from the Soviet era, to the position of Russian Foreign Minister.)

            The evidence mounted throughout 1997, as follows:.

·        February 1997: The head of research in Israeli military intelligence, General Amos Gilad, briefed American officials on Israeli assessments that Iran was in the process of developing a family of missiles with ranges from 1500 km to 3000 km.[36]


·        February 1997: The Clinton Administration issued a "diplomatic warning" to Russia regarding assistance to the Iranian missile program.  The warning was based on "overwhelming" evidence regarding the transfer of SS-4 missile technology to Iran.  Russian Prime Minister Victor Chernomyrdin claimed that the Russian government had not authorized this transfer.”[37]

·        April 1997: Iran conducted the first known test of a long-range missile.[38]

·        May 1997: The CIA identified Russian entities cooperating  with Iran's Shahid Hemmat Industrial Group (SHIG), the  government defense industrial agency in charge of  developing and producing ballistic missiles.  . . .The SHIG has completed several contracts worth  more than $100,000 with the Russian Central  Aerohydrodynamic Institute related to missile programs. The contracts include construction of a wind tunnel for missile design, manufacture of model missiles and creation of related software.[39]

·        Aug. 1997: US officials reported that, “We are seeing Russian technicians in Iranian missile factories, and Russian technology being transferred on major scale, from the SS-4 and from other systems. .... There are credible reports that Russia has built an entire factory in Iran dedicated to making SS-4 boosters.”  Other sources are less certain, stating “If not an entire factory, certainly the Russians have transferred booster production technology.”[40]  .

·        Aug: 1997: Iran tests missile motors for missile with 1300 km range, leading to an Israeli assessment of rapid progress and expectation of deployed system within 18 months. [41]

·        September 1997: Information is released on the identities of the Russian firms providing assistance to Iran (Rosvoorouzhenie, the Russian arms-export agency; the  Bauman Institute, the Russian equivalent of the  Massachusetts Institute of Technology; NPO Trud, a  rocket-motor manufacturer; and Polyus, or "North Star,"  Russia's leading laser developer. . .   Russian assistance includes wind-tunnel testing of  missile nose cones, the design of guidance and propulsion  systems, and development of a solid-fuel project. [42] Private and state-owned Russian firms are described as providing gyroscopes, electronic components, wind tunnels, guidance and propulsion systems and the equipment Iran needs to produce such components.[43] Senior Russians linked directly to the Iranian program include Mr. Koptev and the Rosvoorouzhenie official. (Some U.S. officials  believe they are "free-lancing" for cash rather than carrying out deals approved by Moscow. [44])  From information acquired by various intelligence sources, the majority of military industrial projects in Russia are related to Iran, and hundreds of Russian scientists, and thousands of workers from Russian security industries are helping Teheran develop conventional and non-conventional weapons.[45]

·        Sept. 1997: Reports regarding the testing of components of the Shahab 3 missile, and predicted deployment in the Spring of 1999. [46]  The Shahab, Farsi for ``meteor'' or ``shooting star,'' has a range of 1290-1450 km and a payload of 750 kg. Once the missile is operational, Iran will be able to produce the missiles without Russian assistance and develop a longer-range missile - the Shahab 4 with improved guidance components, 2000 km  range with a payload of 1000 kg. capable of reaching all of Europe as well as Western China.[47]

At first, the US government sought to downplay this evidence, but later, admitted that Russian behavior with respect to Iran had not changed following its formal accession to the MTCR.  A 1997 Department of Defense study acknowledged that, “Activities of Russian companies remain a significant proliferation concern. For example, Russian entities reportedly have aided missile programs in China, the Middle East, and South Asia. Given Russia’s sophisticated missile production capabilities, it is likely Russian technological support or training will continue to find its way to such countries, sometimes without necessarily gaining Moscow’s approval.” [48]

Nevertheless, the Clinton administration once again rejected the option of imposing sanctions, and sought to use diplomatic means to encourage Russian cooperation.  In September 1997, these sales were again the subject of another meeting of the Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission, and again this time, pledges were made to end Russian exports of missile and nuclear-weapons related technology to Iran.  The US government appointed a special representative, Frank Wisner (a diplomat who had served as ambassador to Egypt, and, in mid-1997, left the State Department and entered private business, while continuing as special representative for this issue).  The Russians appointed Koptev to work with Wisner, and critics of the Administration’s position noted that Koptov was himself linked to sales of missile technology to Iran.

As in the past, Congress reacted more strongly, and  Benjamin Gilman, the chairman of the House Committee on International Affairs stated on November 12 1997, that, “The Iranian military continues to make rapid progress in developing long-range missiles with assistance from Russian firms.”  The House of Representatives approved the Iran Missile Proliferation Sanctions Act. Under the proposed limitation, within 30 days of enactment, the Administration would be require to provide the names of any companies suspected, on the basis of credible evidence, of having provided support to Iran after Russia formally joined the MTCR in 1995.[49]  This would lead to the imposition of sanctions.  In contrast, the Congressional legislation making continued American aid to Russia contingent on the end of the transfer of military and dual-use technology to Iran was strongly opposed by the administration, as stated by US Undersecretary of State Thomas Pickering.[50]



As Chinese military technology has become more sophisticated, Beijing has also become a major supplier of ballistic missile technology, and a major problem for the MTCR.  The Middle East has been the major focus of Chinese missile sales for over a decade, predating the establishment of the MTCR.  In June 1985, then Iranian parliament speaker Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani visited Beijing and signed agreements regarding the sale of missile technology.  During 1987-88, China reportedly assistant Iran in the construction of the infrastructure needed to design, build and test ballistic missiles and to extend their ranges.[51] 

In 1988, China also completed the sale of  DF-3 IRBMs to Saudi Arabia, giving this country a missile capability with ranges of 2700-2800 km..  In 1989, it sold Iran several dozen CSS-8 surface-to-surface missiles (a converted SA-2 surface-to-air missile), and it signed an agreement to provide Iran M-9 missiles, though these were never delivered. China reportedly provided materials, components (such as gyroscopes and accelerometers), engineering assistance, and missile-test technology to Iran, and it is reportedly helping Iran with several short-range solid-fuel missiles (whose technology could be used in longer-range systems). [52]  As far as China was concerned, the MTCR and limitations that the US and other suppliers accepted provided an opportunity for increasing sales of missiles and related technology.  In addition, the lack of a central authority for coordinating and licensing the sales of arms and technology, and the fragmented political and military decision making system allows the “Chinese weapons export/import entities-which were responsible for selling missile technology- to function with relative impunity.[53]

As a result, the US government began to press China to conform to the MTCR limitations, including the imposition of limited sanctions on Chinese firms, and in 1992, Beijing agreed (in writing, in contrast to the earlier Russian oral declaration) that it would observe the MTCR’s guidelines . According to Bowen, “This achievement followed more than two years of diplomatic wrangling over missile nonproliferation issues with Beijing.”[54]   In response, the Bush administration agreed to lift sanctions imposed on Chinese institutions that had been involved in transferring M-11 missile technology to Pakistan.[55]  Here again, as in the Russian case, the declaration was “premature”, and Chinese policies did not change.  This led to sanctions, more discussions, and in 1994, the Clinton Administration agreed to lift the sanctions in return for an explicit Chinese pledge not to export surface-to-surface missiles “featuring  the primary parameters of the MTCR.”[56]

Other transfers that reportedly involve Chinese technology include:

   ·   In January 1995, a US court found that export control regulations had been violated in the shipment of ammonium perchlorate, a highly explosive chemical used in manufacturing rocket fuel, from China to Iraq via Amman, Jordan.[57]

   ·   In May 1995, a Central Intelligence Agency study concluded that China had “delivered dozens, perhaps hundreds, of missile guidance systems and computerized machine tools to Iran...” Other sources said rocket propellants ingredients were provided as well.[58]

   ·   July 1996: Equipment delivered as part of a program to modify Iran's Chinese-made HY-2 anti-ship missiles.[59]

   ·   In 1996, Iran reportedly received Chinese telemetry equipment for sending and collecting data during flight tests.[60]

   ·   In late November 1996, Iran reportedly tested an indigenously upgraded Chinese Silkworm missile during naval exercises.[61]

   ·   1997: Reports published that Great Wall Industries is  supplying key missile-testing technology to Iran, [62] and that Iranian and Syrian companies are cooperating in upgrading Scud C missiles using technology purchased from China.[63]

   ·   1997: According to a RAND report, Beijing granted Iran a license to produce Chinese versions of the FROG and SCUD-B Soviet SSMs.[64]

   ·   1997: Evidence published on Iranian development of short-range ballistic missiles as part of a joint program with China involving rocket motors and test equipment. Iranian missile technicians reportedly traveled to China to observe a ground test of a 450mm-diameter rocket motor to be used in the NP-110 solid-fuel missile. The missile program also involves Iran's use or acquisition of Chinese X-ray equipment, used to examine solid fuel missile casings. The China Precision Engineering Institute New Technology Corp. Signed an agreement with Iran's Defense Industries Organization for the sale of gyroscopes, accelerometers and test equipment. [65]

   ·   1997: China reported to be working closely with Iran to build two missile systems with ranges up to 2000 km that could be fielded within two to three years. An Israeli intelligence report identified one Chinese company that is assisting Iran's Shahab-3 and Shahab-4 missile programs. The missiles are expected to have ranges of up to 1500 km and 2000 km, respectively, and a prototype could be ready in two to three years.[66]

As in the case of Russia, if Chinese pledges to adhere to the MTCR guidelines are to be effective, this will require strong US action.  Indeed, a number of American government agencies have expressed concern regarding the Chinese assistance provided to Iran.  The Office of Naval Intelligence reported that the Chinese transfer of military and dual use technology to Iran allows Teheran to develop “one of the most active WMD programs in the Third World, and [it] is taking place in a region of great strategic importance to the United States.[67]  The ONI reports also notes that China tried to ship chemicals for missile fuel to Iraq,[68] and sold lithium hydride to Libya and Iraq, a chemical that can be used in manufacturing nerve agents as well as for missile fuel.[69]

Similarly, the CIA reported that China is “the most significant supplier of WMD [weapons of mass destruction] goods and technology to foreign countries.”  This claim was backed up by the fact that China was “the primary source of nuclear-related equipment and technology to Pakistan and a key supplier to Iran” in 1996.[70]

The 1997 Department of Defense Report on Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction is more ambivalent and diplomatic.  The authors praise China for its “willingness to adopt a more responsible supply policy by adhering to international nonproliferation norms like the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), by ratifying the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), and by reaffirming to the United States its pledge to abide by the basic terms of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) regarding ballistic missile sales.” Nevertheless, the report goes on to state that “... the continued willingness of Chinese firms to engage in nuclear, chemical, and missile cooperation with countries of serious proliferation concern, such as Pakistan and Iran, presents security concerns in many regions where the United States has national interests at stake.”[71]

In the wake of this evidence, the US State Department was reported to be “very concerned”, and the Clinton Administration has reportedly issued more than a dozen diplomatic protest notes seeking to curb Chinese support for the missile program.  These protests appear to have had no impact, and the Administration decided to refrain from imposing sanctions in order to prevent a crisis in US-China relations.  National Security Adviser Samuel Berger said that China claimed that China has “moved toward the international community with respect to embrace of international regimes involving nonproliferation”, but admitted that “there are still some problems with their nuclear cooperation with Iran.”[72]  Prior to the 1997 summit between Chinese and American leaders, the Clinton Administration pressed China to again pledge to “implement export controls, to abide by international rules on nuclear sales, and to halt nuclear and missile cooperation with Iran.”  Indeed, the Chinese made such a pledge, and in return, the United States agreed to lift the ban on sales of U.S. nuclear equipment for civilian purposes.[73]  In addition, under American pressure, China has apparently stopped selling Iran the conventional cruise missiles, known as C-801s and C-802s [74], and has not transferred the M-9 missile to Syria.

In contrast, Congress continues to be very critical of the administration’s policy and many members of Congress expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of verification regarding the Chinese pledges prior to the Administration’s decision to authorize the sale of commercial nuclear technology.[75]  Critics note that the Chinese leadership continues to hide behind the facade that the technology being transferred to Iran is “of a completely peaceful nature and is not at all military.”[76]  Beijing recognizes that Iran is likely to become a major oil supplier, and as that China will need additional sources of petroleum in the coming decade.[77]

As noted above, while China has pledged to abide to the MTCR, the Chinese are also critical of the fact that it only covers missile technology, which is a main Chinese export, while there are no limits on the export of fighter aircraft technology, which is a major source of American and European export income.[78]  In November 1995, Lia Huaqui, China’s Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs said, “Ballistic missiles per se are not weapons of mass destruction, but rather a carrier vehicle. Likewise, fighter aircraft are also a carrier vehicle that can carry nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons... Limiting fighter plane exports is clearly double standard.[79]  Thus, it is clear that China is not likely to change its policies unless the costs of continuing the export of missile related technology becomes greater than the benefits.[80]



North Korea is a pariah state and has never been a candidate for membership in the MTCR.  From the beginning in the mid-1980s, Pyongyang was considered to constitute a major problem for the MTCR system, but no effective strategy to contain this source has been devised.

The North Koreans have continued to produce and export Scud -B and -C missiles, as well as related technology and facilities for the production of missiles and components.  Iran and Syria have emerged as the primary markets, and the money provided by them has kept the North Korean economy afloat.  Although the US government imposed sanctions against North Korea, Iran, and Syria, because  the industries in these countries had no direct links to the US, the sanctions were meaningless.[81] 

In March 1992, North Korean ships carrying Scud‑C missiles, launchers, and equipment to manufacture these missiles, reached Iran and the missiles and launchers were transshipped to Syria. American intelligence systems observed this shipment in progress, and the US Navy tracked the ship in preparation for a potential showdown.  However, the Navy reportedly “lost” the ship near the Iranian coast, and the cargo of missile components was delivered.  Although, from an American perspective, this may have the result of the absence of clear international legal authority to block the shipments, in the Middle East, the episode was a sign of the lack of American determination to prevent the proliferation of ballistic missile capabilities even to Iran.  A few months after they arrived, the Syrians tested the missiles.

Although the North Korean economy is in extreme crisis, and it is unable to produce food and other basic requirements, the relatively advanced level of technology provides a foundation for the production of major weapons systems.   North Korea produced plutonium in its nuclear reactors, and has developed a series of ballistic missiles based on the SCUD technology.  In addition to SCUD-Cs, this industry has produced the 1,000 km- range Nodong-1 and the 1,500 km-range Taepodong-1, with projections for a 4,000 km-range missile known as the Taepodong-2.[82]

Exporting missile technology, primarily to Iran and Syria, helps to sustain the  otherwise failing economic system of North Korea.  Over the last few years, Iran has reportedly acquired several hundred Scud C missiles and missile production facilities from North Korea, as well as missiles and production facilities from China.

These continued transfers increased the threat of missile attacks, not only to Israel, but also to other states in the Middle East and to Europe.  The Israeli government was not satisfied by the absence of a significant American response.   (The US had agreed to provide the Pyongyang regime with civil power reactors after the North Koreans agreed to give up their unsafeguarded reactors, but the Americans did not include any limits on the sales of missiles.  As a result, an Israeli government delegation traveled to Pyongyang, reportedly in the effort to work out an independent arrangement with the North Koreans.  According to reports, Israel was prepared to offer significant economic aid in return for a change in North Korean policy.  However, this effort ended without any change in policy.) 

In response, the US has raised the issue with the North Koreans in talks that began in April 1996.[83]  The talks had little impact, and in October 1996, Iranian experts were reportedly in North Korea to observe a test of the No-Dong missile. In August of 1997, Chang Sung Gil, the North Korean ambassador to Egypt defected and was taken to the US.  Though few details of his reports have been published, he was apparently very knowledgeable regarding North Korean missile programs, cooperation and sales to the Middle East.[84]  (Immediately after the defection, North Korea suspended the talks on missile exports, in protest.)

Under existing conditions, there is little prospect for a change in North Korean policies.  It is possible that a link between Japanese aid to the government and a change in policies regarding military technology exports might force the North Koreans to end or reduce such sales, but the Japanese have not attempted to use this leverage.  In the absence of a regime change in North Korea, or significantly greater pressure on a regime which is already very isolated and highly resistant to pressure, the exports of missiles and technology can be expected to continue.



In a recent study of the MTCR,  Aaron Karp claimed that in most instances, the regime has  succeeded in limiting the ballistic missile programs of countries like Iran, Iraq, and North Korea to technology derived from the Soviet - origin Scud surface-to-surface missile and/or the SA-2 surface -to-air missile.[85]  While this may be true, this should not be confused with a successful policy.  The MTCR was created in order to “to limit the risk of nuclear proliferation by controlling the transfer of equipment and technology that could contribute to the development and production of nuclear-capable, unmanned delivery systems.”[86]  The fact that countries and radical regimes in Iraq, Iran, Syria, Egypt, and Libya are “limited” to technology derived from the Soviet-origin Scuds is of little comfort.  As long as this technology allows these states to produce and deploy missiles that are capable of reaching their neighbors, including Israel, the threats are no less real than if the technology would have been derived from other sources.

In addition to legitimately claiming credit for the successes, the US is also responsible for the failures and their consequences. As the primary sponsor of the MTCR, and the world’s only superpower and therefore responsible for maintaining international stability and for preventing the proliferation of dangerous weapons to radical regimes and pariah states, American weaknesses in gaining the cooperation of Russia and China for effective enforcement of the MTCR in the Middle East are glaring, and the consequences are significant.  From the perspective of Israeli security, the MTCR has had little impact.  Although the Condor II/Badr 2000 program was halted, Iraq and Egypt continued to obtain missile technology form other sources.  In the case of Iran (which cooperates closely with Syria), despite the repeated pledges obtained from Moscow and Beijing, the flow of missile technology, has accelerated, without a significant response from the United States. 

The United States government has repeated to maintain Israeli national security interests in the wake of these threats, but with respect to the proliferation of missile technology (and also nuclear weapons development) has failed to redeem these pledges.  Iran, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, and Libya have all succeeded in gaining ballistic missile capabilities with ranges that extend to Israel.  This proliferation, coupled with access to weapons of mass destruction, is the primary threat to Israeli national survival.

While the US government is pressing Israel to take significant security risks, in the context of the Arab-Israeli peace process, the absence of a secure regional environment in which these risks are minimize has broader consequences.  While not belittling the degree of cooperation and assistance provided to Israel by the US, it is nevertheless true that successive American administrations have promised far more than they have delivered with respect to ending proliferation.  Despite the repeated Russian pledges to abide by the MTCR requirements, the Clinton Administration has not imposed sanctions for Russian transfers of missile technology to Iran and for other forms of assistance that are allowed by Moscow.  If, as claimed by the State Department and White House, the US government has other policy objectives with higher priorities, that mitigate against the imposition of sanctions, then the pledges given to Israel regarding the enforcement of the MTCR and action to prevent proliferation in the Middle East should not have been made.

The MTCR was well intentioned, and has achieved some successes.  However, any security policy that is based on false assumptions and that ignores or attempts to downplay the significance of a substantive and fundamental threat to security and national survival is itself a source of instability and insecurity.




[1] Joseph S. Bermudez, Jr., “Egypt’s Missile Development”, in The International Missile Bazaar, edited by William C. Potter and Harlan W. Jencks, Westview Press, 1994

[2] Deborah A. Ozga, “A Chronology of the Missile Technology Control Regime,” The NonProliferation Review, Winter 1994, Vol. 1, No. 2, p. 66.

[3] THE REGIONAL PROLIFERATION CHALLENGE, US Department of Defense, 1997, p. 4.

[4] See Wyn Q. Bowen. "U.S. Policy on Ballistic Missile Proliferation: The MTCR's First Decade (1987-1997)", The Nonproliferation Review, Fall, 1997, p. 24.

[5] Wyn Q. Bowen. "U.S. Policy on Ballistic Missile Proliferation: The MTCR's First Decade (1987-1997)", The Nonproliferation Review, Fall, 1997, p. 23.

[6] United States Department of State Press Briefing (extract), “Missile Technology Control Regime,” April 16 1987, in Current Documents, United States Department of State (Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, 1987) p. 75.  (Cited by Bowen, p. 23).

[7] United States Department of State Press Briefing (extract), “Missile Technology Control Regime,” April 16 1987, in Current Documents, United States Department of State (Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, 1987) p. 75.  (Cited by Bowen, p. 23).Can be changed to ibid.

[8]  United States Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, The Missile Technology Control Regime: Fact Sheet (Washington, D.C.: United States Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, May 17, 1993) p.1.

[9] Bowen, p. 24;  The Missile Technology Control Regime: Fact Sheet, p.1; and Burns , Encyclopedia of Arms Control and Disarmament, Volume III, p. 1475.

[10] Current Documents, p. 76, cited by Bowen, p. 24.

[11] Ozga, 1994, p.  66; Aaron Karp, "Ballistic Missile Proliferation", in SIPRI Yearbook 1990: World Armaments and Disarmament  (Oxford: Oxford U. Press, 1990).

[12] “Behind the Condor Carbon-Carbon Smuggling Case,” US News and World Report, July 25, 1988, p. 38, cited by Bowen, p. 25.

[13] Bowen, p. 24; see chapters on Argentina, Egypt and Iraq in The International Missile Bazaar, edited by William C. Potter and Harlan W. Jencks, Westview Press, 1994

[14] Mike Eisenstadt, The Sword of the Arabs: Iraq's Strategic Weapons Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Washington DC 1990.

[15] United States General Accounting Office, Arms Control: US Efforts to Control the Transfer of Nuclear-Capable Missile Technology, GAO/NSIAD-90-176 (Washington, D.C.: United States General Accounting Office, June 1990), p.7-8, cited by Bowen, p. 25.

[16] Gary Milholin, "Building Saddam Hussein's Bomb", New York Times Magazine, March 8, 1992.

[17] OPR (Riyadh) , March 19, 1988; in FBIS-NES-88-054 (21 March, 1988), “Statement on the purchase of Chinese-made missiles.”, cited by Bowen, p. 25.

[18] Ozga, “A Chronology of the Missile Technology Control Regime,” p.77; Canada Hosts MTCR Meeting,” Disarmament Bulletin, No.14 (Fall 1990), p.27.

[19] Bowen, p. 26.

[20] Bowen, p. 26; Kenneth R. Timmerman, The Poison Gas Connection: Western Suppliers of Unconventional Weapons to Iraq and Libya, a special report sponsored by the Simon Wisenthal Center, 1990, pp 1-54, cited by Bowen, p. 26.

[21] Gary Milhollin, Licensing Mass Destruction: U.S. Exports to Iraq 1985-1990, Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, Washington, DC 1991; Bureau of Export Administration, United States Department of Commerce, “CONSARC Chronology,” September 7, 1990, in Arms Trade and Proliferation; hearings before the Subcommittee on Technology and National Security, Joint Economic Committee of the United States Congress, 101st Congress, 2nd Session , 102nd Congress, 1st Session, September 21, 1990 and April 23, 1991 (Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office , 1992) ; Committee on Government Operations, United States House of Representatives , Strengthening the Export Licensing System, Report 102-137, 102nd Congress, 1st Session, July 2,1991. (Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office , July 2, 1991), p.18, cited by Bowen.

[22] Sanctions imposed for Category I violations are more stringent than those for Category II violations. Depending in the seriousness of the violation, sanctions imposed include various combinations of the following: denial of certain or all types of U.S. export licenses; denial of certain or all import rights into the U.S.; denial of certain or all contracting rights with the U.S. government. See: “Title XVII: Missile Technology Controls, National Defense Authorization Act for the Fiscal Year 1991,” Public Law 101-510, 101st Congress, 1st Session, November 5,1990, United States Statute at Large 1990 (Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, 1991), pp.1389-2352.  citd in Bowen, p. 26.

[23] Bowen, fn 43 citing Michael R. Gordon, “Clash Erupts on Ways to Halt Spread of Missiles,” The New York Times, November 1, 1989, p.A10; and David Silverberg, “MTCR Proposals Expected to Ignite Friction in Congress, Among Allies,” Defense News, September 4, 1989, pp.31-32.

[24]  President's Summary of DCI National Intelligence Estimate 95-19 (PS/NIE 95-15), "Emerging Missile Threats to North America During the Next 15 Years," November 1995, Federation of American Scientists' homepage http://www.fas.org/spp/starwars/offdocs/nie9519.htm., cited by Bowen, p. 21.

[25] See: Rowan Scarborough and Bill Gertz, "Missile-Threat Report 'Politicized' GOP Says," The Washington Times, January 30,1996, pp. A1, A14; Cited by Bowen p. 21.

[26] NIE 95-15: Independent Panel Review of “Emerging Missiles Threats to North America During the Next Fifteen Years,” unclassified version of the report sent to the Honorable Arlen Specter, Chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence, United States Senate, Washington, D.C., December, 23, 1996. Displayed on the Federation of American Scientists’ homepage at http://www.fas.org/irp/ threatmissile/oca961908.htm. Congress had directed the Director  of Central Intelligence to review the underlying assumptions of the NIE-95-19. The director was required to have the review conducted by an independent non-governmental panel of individuals with appropriate expertise and experience.

[27] Bowen p. 22

[28] Gary Milhollin, Licensing Mass Destruction: U.S. Exports to Iraq, Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, Washington, DC 1991.

[29] “Soviet-United States Joint Statement On Nonproliferation,” June 4, 1990, Public Papers of the Presidents of the Unites States: George Bush 1990, Book 1: January 1 - June 30, 1990 ((Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, 1991), pp. 768-771; Cited by Bowen, p29.

[30]  Bowen p. 29

[31] Andrew Lawler, “Russians OK Missile Export Control,” Space News, September 6,1993, p. 6; Pavel Vanichkin, Itar-Tass (Moscow), September 2,1993; in FBIS-SOV-93-169 (2 September 1993).

[32] (September 4, 1996, Jane's Defense Weekly); Cited by Bowen p. 29.

[33] (93033: Iran: Current Developments and U.S. Policy, January 2, 1997, Kenneth Katzman, CRS: Foreign Affairs and National Defense Division)

[34] “US Waives Russia-Brazil MTCR Violation,” Arms Control Today 25 (July-August 1995), p.27; Cited by Bowen, p. 31.

[35] “Back to Baghdad, Part 3: Armed and Dangerous,” transcript of CNN Presents, February 25, 1996, pp.2-3; Cited by Bowen p. 33.

[36] Iran Brief 3/3, 4/2, 7/3, and 8/1 1997

[37] Wyn Bowen, Kimber Cramer, Andrew Koch, and Adam Moody, "Nuclear and Missile Trade and Developments", The NonProliferation Review, Spring-Summer 1997, Vol. 4, No. 3, p. 136, citing the Los Angeles Times, Feb. 12 1997

[38]Israeli Air Force head Eitan Ben Elihayu on Israel Army radio, cited in Iran Brief, 5/5/97 & Aug 1 97, p. 4

[39] Bill Gertz , “Russia, China aid Iran's missile  program”, THE WASHINGTON TIMES Sept. 10 1997; Bill Gertz, “China joins forces with Iran on short-range missile”, THE WASHINGTON TIMES, June 17, 1997

[40] Russia, China aid  Iran's missile  program   By Bill Gertz  THE WASHINGTON TIMES Sept. 10 1997; Iran Brief, “Schmidbauer warns of “quantum leap” in missiles”, Aug. 1, 1997, p. 4

[41] Attributed to Zeev Livneh, Israeli military attache in DC, in interview cited by Yerach Tal, “Israel to provided US with new info on Russian assistance to Iran”, Haaretz, 7 Oct. 1997, p. 4a.

[42] Bill Gertz, Russia, China aid  Iran's missile  program , THE WASHINGTON TIMES Sept. 10 1997.

[43] Thomas W. Lippman, “Israel Presses U.S. to Sanction Russian Missile Firms Aiding Iran” Washington Post, September 25, 1997; Page A31.

[44] Bill Gertz, “Russia, China aid Iran's missile  program” THE WASHINGTON TIMES Sept. 10 1997

[45] Eitan Rabin, IRAN DEVELOPING MISSILE WITH RANGE OF 1,300 KILOMETERS, "Ha'aretz", July 13, 1997, p. A2

[46] Nicolas B. Tatro, “Iran Developing New Missile”, Associated Press, September 21, 1997.

[47] Nicolas B. Tatro, “Iran Developing New Missile”, Associated Press, September 21, 1997; Bill Gertz, “Russia, China aid Iran's missile  program” THE WASHINGTON TIMES Sept. 10 1997.

[48]THE REGIONAL PROLIFERATION CHALLENGE, US Department of Defense, 1997, p. 4.

[49] “Russian-Iran Coooperation Controversy Rumbles On”, Disarmament Diplomacy, No. 20, November 1997, p. 49.

[50] Haaretz, 23/9/97, p. 4a, citing a statement at a symposium held at Wye Plantation.

[51] Kenneth Katzman, “Iran:Military Relation with China” CRS Report, June 26,. 1996.p.1

[52] Michael Eisenstadt, “U.S. Policy And Chinese Proliferation To Iran: A Small Leap Forward?” Policywatch, The Washington Institute.

[53] See John Lewis, Hua Di, Xue Litai, “Beijing’s Defense Establishment: Solving the Arms Export Enigma,” International Security 15 (Spring 1991), p. 97; Cited in Bowen, p 33..

[54]  Bowen, p. 29.

[55] See: “Imposition of Missile Proliferation Sanctions Against Chinese and Pakistani Entities,” Federal Register, Volume 56, Number 137 (Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, July 17, 1991), p.32601; Office of the Press Secretary, The White House, June 16, 1991, Fact Sheet: China Trade, pp.1-2.

[56] Michael McCurry, Office of the Spokesman, United States Department of State, August 25,1991, China/Pakistan: M-11 Missile Sanctions;Cited in Bowen, p. 31.

[57] Report to Congress of the United States, The White House, Office of the Press Secretary, March 21, 1995.

[58] Kenneth Katzman, “Iran:Military Relation with China” CRS Report, June 26,. 1996.p.1.

[59] Bill Gertz, “China joins forces with Iran on short-range missile”The Washington Times, June 17, 1997,

[60]  Bill Gertz, “Navy finds that China is top illicit arms supplier to Iran, Iraq” The Washington Times, September 2, 1997.

[61] Kenneth Katzman, “Iran:  Current Developments and U.S. Policy” CRS Issue Brief for Congress, January 2, 1997.

[62] Bill Gertz, “Russia, China aid  Iran's missile  program” The Washington Times, Sept. 10 1997.

[63] “Iran, Syria: Weapons Development Called Part of Defense Pact” London Al-Sharq al-Awsat in Arabic, 11 March, 1997 pp 1, 4.

[64] Richard Bitzinger, “Chinese Arms Production and Sales to the Third World” U.S:Rand Publications, 1991, p.13

[65] Bill Gertz, “China joins forces with Iran on short-range missile”, The Washington Times,

[66] Bill Gertz,  “Missiles in Iran of concern to State” The Washington Times, September 11, 1997.

[67] Bill Gertz, “Navy finds that China is top illicit arms supplier to Iran, Iraq” The Washington Times, September 2, 1997

[68] Bill Gertz, “Navy finds that China is top illicit arms supplier to Iran, Iraq” The Washington Times

September 2, 1997.

[69] Richard Bitzinger, “Chinese Arms Production and Sales to the Third World” U.S:Rand Publications, 1991, p.13

[70] Bill Gertz, “Navy finds that China is top illicit arms supplier to Iran, Iraq” The Washington Times

September 2, 1997.

[71]THE REGIONAL PROLIFERATION CHALLENGE, US Department of Defense, 1997, p. 4

[72] Press Briefing By Secretary Of State Madeleine Albright And National Security Advisor Sandy Berger, The White House, Office of  the Press Secretary, October 29, 1997.

[73] Bill Gertz, “China continues astop nuke supplier” The Washington Times, November 2, 1997.

[74]  Steven Erlanger “U.S. Says China Vows to Stop Sending Iran Anti-Ship Cruise Missiles” NY Times, October 18, 1997.

[75]   Bill Gertz,  “Missiles in Iran of concern to State” The Washington Times,September 11, 1997.

[76] Radio Views “Chinese Ties After Clinton's `Defeat' “FBIS-NES-95-119 Tehran Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran First Program Network in Persian, 21 June 1995.

[77] R. Jeffrey Smith, “China's Pledge to End Iran Nuclear Aid Yields U.S. Help” The Washington Post,  October 30, 1997; Page A15.

[78] Bates Gill and Matthew Stephenson, “Search For Common Ground: Breaking the Sino-US Non-Proliferation Stalemate,” Arms Control Today 26 (September 1996), pp. 17-18.

[79] Lia Huaqui, Xiandai Junshi (Conmilit) (Beijing), November 11,1995; in FBIS-CHI-95-246 (11 November 1995).

[80] Gill and Stephenson, “Search For Common Ground: Breaking the Sino-U.S Non-Proliferation Stalemate,” pp.17-18.

[81] See: “Imposition of Missile Proliferation Sanctions Against North Korean and Iranian Entities,” (Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, April 7, 1992), pp.11767-11768, “Imposition of Missile Proliferation Against North Korean and Iranian Entities,” Federal Register, V.57, No. 130 (Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, July 7,1992), 29924-29925. (Cited by Bowen, p. 30).  See also Joseph Bermudez Jr., in Potter, op cit.

[82] Wyn Bowen, Tim McCarthy, and Holly Porteous, “Ballistic Missile Shadow Lengthens,” IDR Extra Special , special supplement to Jane’s International Defense Review, February , 1997; Cited in Bowen pp. 33-34.

[83] Kenneth Katzman Iran: Current Developments and U.S. Policy, CRS: Foreign Affairs and National Defense Division, Washington DC, January 2, 1997

[84] “Report: CIA recruited N. Korean diplomat” UPI, New York, Aug. 30, 1997; See also “North Korean ambassador defects: Move to U.S. could provide valuable missile information”, Aug. 27, 1997, Associated Press

[85]Aaron Karp, “The New Politics of Missile Proliferation,” Arms Control Today 26 (October 1996), p.11.

[86] United States Department of State Press Briefing (extract), “Missile Technology Control Regime,” April 16 1987, in Current Documents, United States Department of State (Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, 1987) p. 75.