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U.S./Russia: Presidents Discuss Disarmament Issues

U.S. President Bill Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin talked on the telephone Wednesday to discuss disarmament issues and other topics. RFE/RL's correspondent Lisa McAdams looks at U.S. plans and Russian concerns involving modification of the ABM treaty.

Washington, 9 September 1999 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President Bill Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin spoke by telephone Wednesday -- after one day of U.S.-Russian talks on relaunching disarmament negotiations reportedly came to a logjam. The talks have been at a standstill since the START II Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty was signed in 1993.

The talks Tuesday in Moscow between U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott and his Russian counterpart, Georgy Mamedov, focused on launching negotiations on START III and on proposed changes to the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) defense treaty.

At the White House, U.S. National Security Advisor Sandy Berger said the two presidents held a wide-ranging conversation, initiated by Yeltsin, that lasted about one hour.

Berger said: "They talked about the cluster of issues involving START II, START III, national missile defense, ABM. And as you know, Secretary Talbott is in Moscow now discussing those issues, and there will be a Russian team coming here in mid-September."

Talbott's visit to Moscow follows an unsuccessful round of talks last month, which ended amid recriminations by senior Russian officials unhappy with NATO's handling of the Kosovo peacekeeping mission and arms reduction issues.

The Russians accused Washington during the last round of attempting to link START III negotiations to changes to the ABM treaty and warned that opening up the missile defense treaty would trigger a new arms race.

At the State Department, spokesman James Rubin stressed the United States' continued support for the development of a limited national missile defense system.

Rubin told reporters the system is designed primarily to counter the threat posed by so-called emerging rogue missile states like North Korea and Iran. Rubin stressed a formal deployment decision was not likely until at least next year. But he said it is "clear" there is an emerging ballistic missile threat in rogue states and as such, Rubin said the United States has begun engaging Russia on the issue.

Rubin said: "What we are trying to do, through these discussions, is explain to the Russians that the dangers of a rogue-state missile threat are faced not only by the United States but also by Russia, and that we believe with these modest changes to the ABM Treaty, we can not only protect this important treaty but also enable both the United States and Russia to be in a position to defend ourselves from those potential rogue-state missiles. And we want to cooperate with Russia in technology and in information and science on this subject, so that both Russia and the United States can be in a position to be protected from this danger, while still ensuring that the ABM Treaty is in place." Rubin added that the United States views the ABM treaty as a "cornerstone" of strategic stability and he said the U.S. is committed to continued efforts to see the treaty strengthened.

Washington has refused to engage in full-fledged START III talks until START II, signed in 1993 and already ratified by the U.S. Senate, is ratified by the Russian State Duma, or lower house of parliament.

Russian lawmakers have stalled on approving the START II treaty, saying it gives the United States an unfair advantage.

Meanwhile, Talbott's visit to Moscow coincided with continuing allegations in Western newspapers about possible money laundering by Russia's top political and business leaders. The allegations over thousands of millions of dollars that may have been funneled through U.S. bank accounts was not on the official agenda of the Talbott-Mamedov talks. However, Berger said Clinton and Yeltsin also discussed the corruption allegations.

Berger said Yeltsin told Clinton that allegations linking him to corruption were "simply not true." Berger said Clinton, for his part, used the opportunity to urge Yeltsin to sign legislation fighting corruption such as money-laundering.

Berger said: "The president raised the question of the money-laundering legislation, which he said he wished that President Yeltsin could sign. President Yeltsin said that he had some difficulties with the particular legislation that the Duma passed with respect to their consistency with the constitution, but that he was prepared to sign a money-laundering bill, if an appropriate bill was passed by the Duma."

Berger said Yeltsin also confirmed to Clinton that a team of Russian investigators would soon travel to the United States to help shed light on the charges. There are also plans for a larger meeting in Moscow in October of the Group of Seven leading industrial nations (G-7), plus Russia, dealing with the issues of rule of law and law enforcement.