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Russia/U.S.: Analysts Discuss Arms Cuts, Strategic Relations

  • Francesca Mereu

A binding agreement on nuclear-arms cuts -- slated for discussion at next month's U.S.-Russia summit -- will include new measures to increase transparency on both sides. U.S. and Russian analysts speaking yesterday in Moscow said the steps include an unprecedented proposal to cooperate in the monitoring of warheads. RFE/RL Moscow correspondent Francesca Mereu reports.

Moscow, 17 April 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Analysts at a Moscow press conference yesterday said the 23 May summit of the U.S. and Russian presidents could mark a turning point in strategic relations between the two countries.

U.S. and Russian experts participating in the press conference, organized by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the PIR Center for Policy Studies in Russia, also praised what they see as a new cooperative spirit in bilateral relations.

Yurii Fedorov is the PIR Center deputy director and a well-known expert on international security and arms control. He said relations have warmed steadily since last summer, when U.S. President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin met in Ljubljana, Slovenia. The spirit of solidarity that followed the 11 September terrorist attacks in the U.S., he said, only improved ties further.

"Russian-American relations have radically changed. If just one year ago we had reason to expect a new crisis, today we are discussing how to improve [our relations]. We have already gotten some results: Russia in general, and President Putin in particular, decided to back the U.S.-led antiterrorist operation in Afghanistan. Moscow reacted calmly to Washington's decision to withdraw from the ABM treaty. And President Bush agreed to a legally binding deal [on reducing weapons stockpiles]," Fedorov said.

Rose Gottemoeller is a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. She said she believes a legally binding agreement will be prepared in time for the May summit.

Gottemoeller said the agreement has the support of U.S. senators Joseph Biden (D-Delaware) and Jesse Helms (R-North Carolina), the chairman and ranking minority member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Gottemoeller says the two senators signed a letter to President Bush saying they expect the agreement to be sent to the Senate for ratification.

Gottemoeller said the new agreement includes measures already put forward by former presidents Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin during START-3 discussions in 1997. Gottemoeller, who worked on national-security issues during the Clinton administration, says the new arms deals will also include measures intended to increase transparency as the reduction procedures begin. Moreover, she stressed, the agreement will provide for the monitoring of warheads.

"The second important aspect of the agreement is that it will be linked to the already-existing START-1 Treaty, which will provide structures and precedents for implementing these further reductions. For example, the inspection measures of the verification protocol of START-1 will be used to implement further eliminations of missile submarines and bombers. The third point of the new agreement will be a new area: the monitoring of warheads. Historically, the strategic-arms reduction agreements have not touched on warheads because they were considered to be too sensitive and difficult to monitor. But in this new agreement, there will apparently be some measures to monitor warheads cooperatively. This is a very welcome innovation in the strategic-arms control process and the first in many years," Gottemoeller said.

Last year, Bush and Putin pledged to cut their respective nuclear arsenals to between 1,500 to 2,000 warheads each from the current levels of about 6,000 warheads. 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 has since warmed to the idea of a binding agreement, but Aleksandr Pikaev, a nuclear analyst with Carnegie's Moscow office, said there are still a number of issues that require further discussion. One sticking point, according to Pikaev, is a U.S. proposal to stockpile -- not destroy -- its decommissioned warheads. Russia opposed the plan, saying it falls short of an earnest effort to reduce arms.

Russia's stance on that issue, however, softened slightly last month when Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said Russia is likely to allow the United States to stockpile some of its decommissioned weapons.

Pikaev said there has been no progress in this direction so far. But he said he is optimistic that an official decision will be made before the summit. The analyst added that it is very important for Russia to reach an agreement with the U.S., saying "even a bad agreement is better than nothing." In return, he said, Russia may ask to be freed from certain obligations held over from previous agreements.

"First of all, the new document has to free Russia of constraints [under previous arms-control agreements]. These constraints prevent Russia from developing its strategic forces. [For example], under the START-1 agreement, Russia cannot modernize its strategic forces," Pikaev said.

Pikayev said that Russia will also push for inspection guidelines to be less intrusive than those provided under START-1, which allow U.S. inspectors wide access to Russian military facilities.

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