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The BBC's Peter Biles in Washington
"Republicans say Moscow pays Cuba between $200m and $300m a year to run the listening post"
 real 28k

Thursday, 20 July, 2000, 10:35 GMT 11:35 UK
Spying row blocks US-Russian deal

The House of Representatives has passed a bill that would bar the US from rescheduling debts incurred by the former Soviet Union until Russia closes its spy station in Cuba.

Under a deal reached last year, the US is allowing Russia to postpone the payment of $485m in Soviet-era debts.

But supporters of the bill in the Republican-controlled House say it makes no sense to give Russia debt relief when it is pouring millions of dollars each year into an operation that eavesdrops on the US military, companies and private citizens, while helping the Cuban Government.

The legislation is opposed by the Clinton administration, which argues that Russia needs intelligence facilities to monitor arms control agreements.

The measure passed easily, by a vote of 275 to 146, with 61 Democrats joining Republicans to support the bill.

'Bristling with satellites'

Legislators say Russia leases its listening post in Lourdes, near Havana, for up to $300m a year, and has spent more than $3bn in recent years to operate and upgrade the station used to intercept US telephone calls and computer communications.

The eavesdropping facility is reported to house dozens of Russian intelligence officers using satellites and other high-tech electronic surveillance equipment.

The chairman of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, Porter Goss, said it was similar to having a foreign aircraft carrier "bristling with satellites" sitting off American shores.

Supporting the Castro regime and spying on American citizens and our companies are not appreciated

Rep Benjamin Gilman
Republican Representative Benjamin Gilman, of the International Relations Committee, said: "Supporting the Castro regime and spying on American citizens and our companies are not appreciated."

'Nail in Castro's coffin'

The White House strongly opposes the legislation, although it admits to sharing congressional concerns over the intelligence collection activities of the Lourdes listening station.

The top Democrat on the International Relations Committee, Sam Gejdenson, said the real purpose of the bill's backers was to put "one more nail in Fidel Castro's coffin."

The bill's supporters say the US should not aid Russia while it is helping Castro's regime

US officials have also warned that any refusal by Washington to reschedule the American share of the Russian debt would create tensions within the Paris Club of creditors.

If the bill became law and Russia failed to repay the debt, it would automatically lose its normal trade relations status and Russian goods entering the US could be hit by higher tariffs.

A similar measure to block postponement of Russian debt repayments is also moving through the Senate, sponsored by conservative Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina.

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05 Apr 00 | Europe
Analysis: Spymasters change focus
01 Aug 99 | The Economy
Russia cuts debt deal
13 Feb 00 | Business
Russia negotiates debt relief
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