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Russia/U.S.: Clinton Wants More Money For Defense

Washington, 20 January 1999 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President Bill Clinton has proposed more money to modernize America's military forces and greater financial assistance for Moscow to minimize the threat posed by Russia's aging nuclear weapons arsenal.

Clinton made the proposals in his "State of the Union" address Tuesday night (early today Prague time), just hours after his chief attorney opened his defense at the president's impeachment trial in the Senate (upper house). If convicted by two-thirds of the senators on charges of lying under oath or obstructing justice, Clinton would be removed from office.

Clinton -- a Democrat -- received a generally warm welcome from most members of Congress and invited guests, which included his cabinet and foreign ambassadors. Many opposition Republicans did not applaud, however. Some did not attend.

In his speech, Clinton focused primarily on domestic policies, such as the need to overhaul the Social Security retirement system, strained slowly by America's aging population. But he also outlined major initiatives that could affect America's dealings with other countries.

Clinton said: "My fellow Americans, I stand before you to report that the state of our union is strong. America is working again. The promise of our future is limitless. But we cannot realize the promise if we allow the hum of our prosperity to lull us into complacency."

Clinton proposed a $12 billion increase in U.S. defense spending for the next fiscal year -- part of a plan to add $110 billion over six years. The money would go to increase defense readiness, upgrade equipment and raise pay. Republicans -- who have a majority in both houses of Congress -- generally favor more money for the military. U.S. military spending has been cut since the end of the Cold War.

The president's plan for assistance to Moscow would add to a congressional program aimed at getting rid of Russian nuclear weapons. It would increase funding by 70 percent over five years to help redirect the work of Russian scientists from weapons research to peacetime pursuits. The funds -- currently at $2.5 billion -- would also help dismantle and destroy warheads and weapons materials.

White House National Security Advisor Samuel Berger said programs would include destruction of 50 tons of plutonium, funding to put 8,000 Russian scientists into civilian research and help for Russia in tightening export controls.

Clinton said: "We must expand our work with Russia, Ukraine and the other former Soviet nations to safeguard nuclear materials and technology so they never fall into the wrong hands. My balanced budget will increase funding for these critical efforts by almost two-thirds over the next five years."

U.S. Senator Richard Lugar, an Indiana Republican and advocate of such an approach, immediately endorsed Clinton's proposal. Lugar noted that a similar program he proposed has facilitated the destruction of hundreds of Russian missiles.

Clinton said: "With Russia, we must continue to reduce our nuclear arsenals. The START II treaty and the framework we have already agreed to for START III could cut them by 80 percent from their Cold War height."

The START II pact would limit each side to between 3,000 and 3,500 strategic nuclear warheads. The U.S. Senate approved the pact in 1996. The Duma has yet to ratify this agreement.

In 1997, President Bill Clinton and President Boris Yeltsin pledged to begin talks on a START III agreement as soon as the START II accord enters into force. The START III pact aims to limit each nation to between 2,000 and 2,500 strategic warheads by the end of the year 2007.

In his speech, Clinton said: "No nation in history has had the opportunity and the responsibility we now have to shape a world more peaceful, secure and free. All Americans can be proud that our leadership has put Bosnia on the path to peace. And with our NATO allies, we are pressing the Serbian government to stop its brutal repression in Kosovo, to bring those responsible to justice, and give the people of Kosovo the self-government they deserve."

Clinton's speech also set the stage for a NATO summit in Washington in April for the anticipated admission of Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic into the alliance.

Clinton said: "We must support security in Europe and Asia, expanding NATO and defining its new missions at its 50th anniversary summit this year in Washington, maintaining our alliance with Japan and Korea, and our other Asian allies, and engaging China."