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Russia: U.S. Official Says Problems Remain In Arms Reduction Talks

  • Francesca Mereu

U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control John Bolton says the U.S. and Russia still hold out hope for reaching a nuclear-arms-reduction deal in time for a May summit between the U.S and Russian presidents. But Bolton, in Moscow for two days of arms control talks, said important problems remain. Bolton also said Russia's cooperation with Iran on nuclear and missile technology is an obstacle to better relations.

Moscow, 20 February 2002 (RFE/RL) -- John Bolton, the U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control, said U.S. and Russian negotiators are working hard to reach agreement on cutting nuclear warheads in time for a presidential summit in May.

But he said important problems still need to be solved: "We have a number of different issues, questions of how exactly to account for the offensive strategic warheads, measures of transparency, verification, and a series of issues that still have to be resolved. I can tell you that both presidents are extremely interested in reaching an agreement because they feel it would embody the new relationship between our countries."

On a two-day visit in mid-February to Moscow, Bolton characterized his talks with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Georgy Mamedov as "positive." He said both sides are committed to reaching an agreement before U.S. President George W. Bush comes to Russia in May for talks with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin.

"Negotiations are overall very positive, with every good intention on both sides to try to overcome the substantial issues that we have to discuss to reach an agreement, hopefully when President Bush arrives in May," Bolton said.

Bolton said U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov have instructed their respective sides to "make every effort to reach agreement." Talks are expected to resume in a few weeks.

Bush and Putin pledged to cut their respective nuclear arsenals to around 1,500 to 2,000 warheads each from the current levels of about 6,000 warheads in November.

Bush initially favored an informal agreement on the numbers of warheads to be cut, while the Russians were pushing for a legally binding agreement. Bush is now reportedly leaning toward accepting the Russian position on this issue, but Bolton said there are still a number of issues that require what he called "detailed" discussions.

One sticking point is a U.S. proposal to stockpile -- not destroy -- the decommissioned warheads. Russia opposes the plan, saying it is not a serious effort at arms reduction.

Russian presidential military adviser Igor Sergeyev was quoted by Interfax on 19 February as saying that only the destruction of nuclear weapons shows the international community how "reliable and serious" the course of nuclear disarmament is.

But Bolton said the United States needs what he called "more flexibility" in its offensive nuclear arsenal in case the geostrategic situation changes.

"The question for the United States is whether we have upward flexibility in the offensive weapons area should the international geostrategic situation change," Bolton said. "There are several possible ways to deal with the flexibility that we require, which we have presented to the Russian side and which we'll discuss with them."

Bolton also said he raised the issue of Russia's cooperation with Iran in his talks. Bush recently labeled Iran, along with Iraq and North Korea, as constituting an "axis of evil" for making nuclear technology and weaponry available to terrorists.

"I did raise our concern about Russian cooperation with the Iranian nuclear-weapons program and the ballistic-missile program. We have a disagreement about the extent of the involvement in those Iranian [nuclear and missile] programs, and we're going to have to work that out. But let me say this: It is very important as Russia and the United States and the West generally talk about their mutual security interests that we all treat the question of nuclear and missile proliferation in the same way," Bolton said.

Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi had been scheduled to arrive in Moscow on 19 February for talks on military and technical cooperation, but the trip was canceled at the last minute because of what the Iranian side said were scheduling problems.

Bolton this week also met with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov; Minister of Atomic Energy Aleksandr Rumyantsev; the head of the Russian space agency, Yurii Koptev; and Deputy National Security Adviser Oleg Chernov. Bolton said discussions focused on nuclear arms reduction and questions pertaining to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.