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Russia: Relations A Disappointment To Some In U.S. Congress

Washington, 13 March 1997 (RFE/RL) -- A leading U.S. congressman says there is a strong feeling of disappointment among some members that U.S. policy toward Russia does not seem to be serving American interests as well as it should.

Benjamin Gilman (R-New York), chairman of the House of Representatives International Relations Committee, says that the allegations Russia is developing chemical and biological weapons, selling dangerous technology around the world, and pushing for bases and troops in Ukraine are souring U.S.-Russian relations.

Gilman spoke during a Committee hearing on the issue Wednesday, a week before U.S. President Bill Clinton is scheduled to meet Russian President Boris Yeltsin in Helsinki.

James Collins, the State Department's Ambassador at Large for the former Soviet republics, testified that although relations with Russia are sometimes difficult, it is in America's best long-term interest to provide Russia with incentives for economic and democratic reform and continue to pursue a cooperative and mutually beneficial relationship.

Collins said the Clinton-Yeltsin summit comes at a "critical moment" when people on both sides are losing faith in the relationship.

He said that in order to bolster relations, President Clinton has outlined three crucial areas regarding U.S.-Russian relations that he will cover with Yeltsin.

First, according to Collins, Clinton will use the summit to emphasize American commitment to integrating Russia into the world community. Collins said Clinton will stress that the U.S. strongly supports Russia's application to the World Trade Organization (WTO) and believes that serious negotiations about entry to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) are possible after the Russians gain entry to the WTO.

Collins also said that Clinton will underline U.S. support for Russia's entry as a creditor into the Paris Club and express hope that they will soon assume full membership. According to Collins, Clinton will additionally suggest expanded participation for Russia in the G-7 group of major industrial countries, particularly in the area of nuclear safety.

Second, Collins stated the NATO-Russia relationship will undergo significant discussion, although Collins was careful to add that the main channel for intensive talks remains solely between NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana and Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov.

Collins said that President Clinton would strongly urge Russia to work constructively with the United States on the NATO-Russia relationship over the next several months leading up to the Madrid conference in July.

NATO is expected to invite Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic into the organization at that time.

But Collins stressed: "Madrid is not a deadline. If Russia cannot agree by July, we and NATO will be ready to pick up after Madrid discussions of NATO-Russia cooperation."

Lastly, Collins said that the issue of arms control would be deliberated at great length during the summit.

According to Collins, the United States has been working on an arms control package that includes:

A Russian commitment to ratify the strategic arms limitation treaty (START II) promptly.

Guidelines for START III negotiations for further reductions beyond START II limits, with talks to begin after ratification of START II.

And an agreement on the demarcation between anti-ballistic missile (ABM) systems and theater missile defenses that will preserve the ABM treaty while supporting the U.S.'s capacity to develop theater missile defense programs in a new threat environment.

Collins acknowledged that this was an ambitious agenda for the summit.

"The meeting is an opportunity to shape and revitalize the capacity for Russian-American cooperation, and this will be a key goal," said Collins.

"Whether we look at the short or the long term, our agenda with Moscow is deep, broad and complex. This is not surprising. The U.S. and Russia are great powers with wide-ranging interests; there are bound to be areas where our respective policies converge -- and where they diverge ... Yet whether promoting cooperation or managing differences, we have found no alternative to active interaction with Moscow. That too is not surprising. As global powers, the U.S. and Russia are destined to work with one another."