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UN: Russia Renews Call For Deep Nuclear Cuts

Russia has opened a new session of a disarmament conference in Geneva by calling on the U.S. to join it in making deep cuts to nuclear warheads. But the U.S. national security adviser says he does not expect any major agreement on nuclear cuts at the upcoming summit of the U.S. and Russian presidents. UN correspondent Robert McMahon reports.

United Nations, 26 May 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Russia has opened the latest session of the UN's Conference on Disarmament by calling for deep cuts in strategic nuclear weapons as an alternative to amending the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) pact.

Russia's envoy to the disarmament conference in Geneva, Vasily Sidorov, on Thursday reaffirmed Moscow's position the 1972 ABM treaty is a key element of strategic stability and a condition for reducing strategic nuclear weapons.

Sidorov expressed concern at U.S. plans to move forward with a national missile defense plan that would require changes to the ABM treaty. The United States says the missile defense system would protect the country from attacks by rogue nations.

Sidorov told the conference it also had the opportunity to build on the momentum he says was gained at the recently concluded non-proliferation treaty conference in New York. That treaty is aimed at controlling and eliminating nuclear weapons. This year the five nuclear powers for the first time pledged an "unequivocal" commitment to eliminate their nuclear arms.

The Russian envoy's remarks in Geneva come slightly more than one week before U.S. President Bill Clinton and Russian President Vladimir Putin hold their first summit meeting in Moscow.

Clinton and former Russian President Boris Yeltsin agreed in 1997 to seek deeper arms reductions after Russia ratified the START II agreement. START II, which would reduce arsenals to between 3,000 and 3,500 strategic nuclear warheads, was approved by the Russian Duma last month.

Russia is now seeking in the next round of the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks to reduce nuclear arsenals to 1,500 strategic warheads. But the United States has repeatedly said it was seeking cuts only as low as 2,000 warheads.

Sidorov said on Thursday Russia is willing to cooperate with the United States on countering the threat of rogue states. And as part of this process, he said, it could avoid any weakening of the ABM treaty.

"There is a real alternative to the destruction of the ABM treaty, and it is taking up, gradually, a clear shape. It is based on further deep reductions in nuclear weapons, collective steps to counter the threat of the proliferation of missiles and missile technologies, cooperation concerning non-strategic missile defense systems on the basis of the 1997 New York arrangements, the joint analysis of the real scope of 'new' missile threats, (and) strengthening confidence-building measures in international affairs."

But Clinton's national security adviser, Sandy Berger, told reporters in Washington on Thursday that he doesn't expect any breakthroughs at the summit in connection with the ABM or START issues.

"I've never expected an issue as complex as this to be resolved in this summit. This is the first time that President Putin and President Clinton will have an opportunity to discuss this. These are serious issues. And they involve both whether we can agree to modifications in the ABM Treaty, whether we can make further progress on the START THREE process that President Yeltsin and President Clinton set as an objective in Helsinki in 1997. Hopefully, we will have some greater degree of understanding of each other's position."

During the non-proliferation conference (NPT) that ended last week, a number of UN member states and non-governmental organizations criticized Russia and the United States for the slow pace of arms reduction talks. Both countries are still believed to possess about 30,000 nuclear warheads between them.

The president of the NPT conference, Algerian ambassador Abdallah Baali, told reporters this week the final statement by the nuclear powers was important. But he said there were also concerns about the dangers posed by the United States and Russia still possessing thousands of nuclear weapons.

"It would be a very dangerous situation. I think it's absolutely vital that the Russians and the Americans come to an agreement."

The UN disarmament conference that got underway in Geneva on Thursday is the world's only multilateral disarmament forum. The 66 member states to the conference will now meet for seven weeks and are scheduled to hold another session late in the summer.