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Clinton Plans to Urge Yeltsin to Drop Nuclear Sale to Iran

By Susan Page

At their summit in Moscow next week, President Clinton will share "very sensitive" U.S. intelligence information with Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin in an last-ditch effort to persuade him to scuttle the Kremlin's $1 billion sale of nuclear reactors and technology to Iran.

Secretary of State Warren Christopher said Thursday the United States might also offer Russia additional aid to develop its own peaceful nuclear program if Yeltsin backs out of the deal, which Clinton argues could enable the Tehran regime to build nuclear weapons.

The nuclear-reactor sale is one of several issues - the bloody war in Chechnya and Moscow's continued opposition to NATO expansion are others - that threaten to make Clinton's three-day visit to Moscow the most contentious and least productive of any U.S.-Russian summit since the end of the Cold War.

The White House made it clear that the Iranian nuclear sale was at the top of the agenda. Of concern is the sale of a gas centrifuge that could enable the Iranians to produce weapons-grade uranium.

When Russian officials argued that the reactor posed no danger of weapons development, Defense Secretary William Perry disagreed. "From my background, that is exactly the danger," he told them.

U.S. officials said Clinton would use intelligence data to try to convince Yeltsin that Iran intended to use the technology for weapons. Iran has denied any such intention.

Moscow has rejected U.S. entreaties to stop the sale, with some Russians speculating that the United States is simply trying to protect its own business interests in the nuclear field. That was one reason Clinton announced Sunday he would impose a total trade embargo against Tehran, costing U.S. companies contracts worth at least $250 million.