(CNSNews.com) - Former Secretary of State George Shultz denied Wednesday a statement by a Clinton administration official that a statement issued by Shultz and a bi-partisan group of former secretaries of state, defense, national security advisers and CIA directors criticizing Vice President Gore's secret Russian arms deal to Iran was timed for the upcoming November election.
Shultz, in a conference call with reporters, said, "I noticed in a statement that seemed to be coming from the State Department, Jim Kennedy, that somehow this has been timed in terms of the electoral calendar by the people making this statement. On the contrary, this emerged because of a story broken by The New York Times, and all we're doing is reacting to that story. So, the timing was strictly a matter of when there was revealed these very disturbing facts."
The New York Times reported last week that a secret 1995 agreement between Vice President Gore and then Russian Premier Viktor Chernomyrdin stated that the United States would not impose sanctions on Russia for its conventional arms sales as is required by US law.
Shultz was asked if the statement was meant to comment on Gore's fitness to be President, and he responded, "In our statement, we were very careful to simply state the facts as far as we could see them and express our indignation and concern about national security interests, and we didn't take it further than that. So, from the standpoint of the statement, it was an effort to be guided by concern for national security."
A joint Senate subcommittee held a hearing on the Gore-Chernomyrdin agreement on Wednesday. Deputy Secretary of State John Barker told the committee that no laws were violated in the deal.
Shultz responded, saying, "The law says that, if there is sales from some country to Iran that are of such a nature that they can affect the strategic balance, then that triggers sanctions, such as, for example, the US doing everything it can to stop any money flowing from the IMF (International Monetary Fund) to that country."
"Those sales should have caused, under the law, a sanction. They didn't. Why not? (It is because of ) an agreement...made between the Vice President and the Premier of Russia that we would overlook them. I think that's a very questionable thing to do. It's a serious matter," Shultz said.
Shultz also thinks the arms sales to Iran upset the "strategic balance" in the Middle East.
"These sales upset the strategic balance, and we can certainly see it now in the Middle East with all the turmoil," Shultz said.
Congress also should have been informed by the Clinton administration about the deal, Schultz added.
"While apparently the fact that some sort of an agreement was mentioned, that's hardly the same thing as a careful briefing of the intelligence committees. After all, Congress has set up committees explicitly to receive highly confidential information, and they will keep that information confidential, and you need to do that," Shultz said.
However, during Wednesday's hearing, Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE) thought the Gore-Chernomyrdin agreement was beneficial.
"We should let the American people know that it was a good, sensible agreement that did not give Russia any relief from US law. It kept the lid on Russian arms flows to Iran. In fact, Russia's annual arms deals with Iran during the Clinton administration were only a tenth of what they were during the Bush administration," Biden claimed.
Shultz didn't agree.
"There were arm flows to Iran. Nobody seems to deny that. How could it not trigger sanctions of some kind under our law unless we said we were looking to overlook it. So, I think Senator Biden is wrong about that," Shultz said.
The group statement by Shultz said, in part, "We are deeply disturbed by the agreement made between Vice President Gore and then-Russian Premier Chernomyrdin in which America acquiesced in the sale by Russia to Iran of highly threatening military equipment such as modern submarines, fighter planes and wake-homing torpedoes. We also find incomprehensible that this agreement was not fully disclosed even to those committees of Congress charged with receiving highly classified briefings, apparently at the request of the Russian premier."
Signing the statement along with Shultz were Former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger, James Baker and Lawrence Eagleburger; former Clinton administration CIA Director James Woolsey; Former Carter National Security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, and former Defense Secretaries Caspar Weinberger, James Schlesinger, Donald Rumsfeld and Frank Carlucci. Former Bush National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft also signed the statement.