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Russia: U.S. To Boost Employing Scientists To Reduce Arms Proliferation

  • Michael Lelyveld

Boston, 6 August 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. State Department may be forced to cut some programs for Russia and other countries in the region to provide jobs for needy scientists at research institutes, a top aid official says.

William Taylor, the State Department's coordinator of assistance for the Newly Independent States, told RFE/RL that the U.S. government may have to reduce or eliminate other programs in order to fund increases for Russian research scientists.

Ambassador Taylor spoke Wednesday after the U.S. House of Representatives voted to slash nearly $2 billion from President Bill Clinton's request for the foreign aid budget next year. The bill provides $725 million for the region, which is $307 million less than the administration wanted.

The U.S. Senate previously approved $780 million, virtually assuring that any compromise in the Congress will fall far short of the aid goal. The president has been advised to veto the entire measure, but no final decision has been made.

Although the House of Representatives did not make cuts in specific programs, it reduced the president's request for the region by about the same amount as the State Department's planned spending for a program known as the "Enhanced Threat Reduction Initiative." The initiative is largely aimed at providing jobs for nuclear and other scientists who may be tempted to sell secrets to countries like Iran.

The administration is trying to increase spending for the initiative because of the Russian economic crisis of last August 17. The government is seeking a total of about $1 billion for the threat reduction effort, including separate spending by the Departments of State, Energy and Defense.

The House of Representatives said that it agrees with the merits of the program, but not with the higher amounts that the administration wants to spend.

"They are not convinced that the rapid expansion of several projects is feasible or justified," said Ambassador Taylor, quoting from a House of Representatives report.

But the administration remains committed to the idea of more spending for threat reduction. If they have to live with the foreign aid measure, officials would be forced to make some tough decisions on other programs in order to raise spending for scientists, Taylor said. Some lower-priority projects might have to be eliminated altogether, posing a difficult choice.

"There's no consensus on what is a low-priority program," the ambassador said.

The State Department administers a variety of regional programs that include efforts to build democratic institutions and promote market reforms. But it is too soon to say which projects will suffer the most.

The U.S. Administration may also adjust its planned funding for all regional programs, providing an increase for scientists that is not as large as its original request. Officials had planned to raise spending more than fourfold from $21 million to $95 million at the International Science and Technology Center in Moscow and the Science and Technology Center of Ukraine in Kyiv, for example.

Funding could still be doubled or tripled for science programs, resulting in increases with less drastic cuts in other areas of aid.

The struggle is the latest sign of the high priority placed on arms proliferation and doubts about programs to control it. In May, the U.S. Congress imposed a series of new restrictions on another program to employ Russian scientists, known as the Initiatives for Proliferation Prevention, administered by the U.S. Department of Energy. Members of the U.S. Congress were angered by reports that only a fraction of prior funding had actually been paid to the scientists because of Russian taxes and charges by U.S. companies and government arms laboratories, which cooperate in the program.

In previous years, Congress has complained that funds were not spent in the same years that they were appropriated due to inefficiency. This year, Congress has threatened to cut the funding and require that a greater share go to the scientists. Russian taxes on aid would not be allowed.

Differences over the programs must be worked out in September to meet the budget deadline for the next U.S. fiscal year, which begins October 1. But the fights over aid programs are likely to be perennial, as long as Russian arms technology continues to spread.