FALLOUT from a pair of nuclear deals has dimmed the Clinton administration's hopes of putting relations with two crucial nations on an even keel.
In recent weeks, North Korea has balked at the terms of its October 1994 accord that would terminate its alleged nuclear-weapons program. A Russian plan to help Iran build four nuclear reactors, meanwhile, threatens a warm relationship between Washington and Moscow.
As the Clinton administration struggles to contain the damage on both fronts, Congress grows increasingly restive. ''You'd be hard pressed to find a Republican that is comfortable with either of these deals,'' says a Republican congressional source.
Under the terms of the North Korea accord, the North pledged to dismantle its nuclear program in exchange for shipments of US oil, steps towards United States diplomatic recognition, and two replacement reactors worth $4 billion.
North Korea has stuck to part of the bargain by freezing its nuclear activity, according to international inspectors. But US officials are concerned that North Korea may have diverted a small portion of US oil shipments intended for heating and power generation.
The deal now threatens to come undone over North Korea's refusal to let its archenemy, South Korea, supply the light-water reactors (LWRs), which produce less weapons-grade plutonium than the North's current graphite technology.
Although South Korea was not formally designated as the supplier nation in the October agreement, US officials say they made it clear during the negotiations that South Korea would build the reactors.
''That was known to the North Koreans as the intention right along and that's the way it's going to be,'' said Assistant Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter in a recent meeting with reporters.
US wants N. Korea to comply
Robert Gallucci, the chief US negotiator on the Korea deal, recently said that unless Pyongyang reversed its decision, no new reactors would be built in North Korea.
But Mr. Gallucci said the October agreement will not be nullified as long as North Korea's nuclear program remains frozen. ''What we are looking at is compliance by North Korea with those provisions which are a benefit to us, principally the freeze on their nuclear activities,'' Gallucci told the House International Relations Committee.
Many lawmakers believe the US gave up too much to get North Korea to sign the agreement. Even so, most are resigned to the fact that short of military action there is no other way of persuading North Korea to abandon its nuclear-weapons program.
Lawmakers have more leverage in dealing with Russia, which has angered Congress and the administration by pressing on with plans to supply nuclear technology to Iran.
The four LWRs, like those intended for North Korea, would produce little byproduct that could be used to build nuclear weapons. Even so, US officials are convinced that Iran is intent on building a nuclear bomb and are determined to keep even peaceful nuclear technology out of the militant Islamic nation.
US lawmakers impatient
The Iran deal has made matters difficult for the Clinton administration, which has supported Russian President Boris Yeltsin through good times and bad. Many US lawmakers, angered by Russia's brutal war in Chechnya and Mr. Yeltsin's erratic political behavior, have grown less patient. House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R) of Georgia has threatened to suspend US aid to Russia if it does not break off the Iran deal.
US officials have repeatedly asked Moscow to abandon its plans to help complete two partially constructed reactors and to build two new ones at a site on the Persian Gulf. But Russia says the deal is now closed and that Russian advisors are already on the ground to help with construction of the $1-billion project.
Russian officials say they need the foreign exchange and that they have as much right to help Iran as the US does to help supply reactors to another rogue state: North Korea.
The 1972 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which Iran has signed, permits nuclear powers to cooperate with nonnuclear states to introduce peaceful nuclear technology, Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Georgy Mamedov, reminded US officials during a recent visit to Washington. US interference, he warned, could prompt Iran to quit the NPT on the eve of an April conference where the treaty will be reviewed and -- if the US has its way -- indefinitely extended. ''We're going to keep after the Russians not to sell those reactors,'' insists Mr. Carter.
Congressional Republicans warn that if Russian authorities goes ahead with the deal, they will make it almost impossible for the administration to secure $258 million in aid for Russia next year.