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Russia: U.S. Seeks to Make Russian Weapons Safe

The administration of U.S. President George W. Bush has concluded a review of American military assistance to Russia. The study says most of the U.S.-paid programs aimed at helping Russia to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction are vital to American security. Our correspondent Frank T. Csongos reports from Washington.

Washington, 17 July 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The United States says it is in America's national security interest to continue to help Russia in preventing the spread of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons.

The assessment is contained in a review by the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush of a decade-old non-proliferation program. It is designed to prevent cash-strapped Russian research facilities, or individual scientists, from selling weapons technologies abroad.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher summed up the U.S. position at the department's daily briefing on 16 July. He said:

"We continue to believe that it's in the U.S. national interest to assist Russia in preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction, the material and the know-how for weapons of mass destruction as well as ballistic technology. So that point remains pretty firm. "

One of the programs involved is a U.S. taxpayer-funded effort to help Russia dispose of hundreds of tons of military plutonium.

The review calls for a shift in philosophy from assistance to partnership with Moscow.

To do that, U.S. officials say the Kremlin would have to demonstrate a greater willingness to make a financial and political commitment to stop the spread of sophisticated conventional weapons and to end Russian sale of nuclear and other military-related technologies to Iran and other nations unfriendly to the United States.

The U.S. review covered 30 programs with an annual outlay of some $800 million.

These programs represent a cornerstone of U.S. scientific and military relationship with Russia.

Bush is expected to discuss some of these programs when he meets Russian President Vladimir Putin this coming weekend in Genoa, Italy. The meeting, U.S. officials say, is expected to focus on American plans to build a nuclear missile shield.

The United States reiterated on 16 July that it intends to proceed with developing the missile defense system despite new objections from Russia and China. A joint statement signed 15 July by the presidents of Russia and China in Moscow called the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM) the "cornerstone of international security."

At the State Department, Boucher said:

"Ultimately, the United States intends to go forward, and we've made clear that we have the right to withdraw from the treaty, if necessary. But we'd like to work this out, and the goal is try to work with the Russians, and then the exact form of that could be a variety of things."

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said in an interview with a U.S. newspaper that the administration was trying to reach some sort of written understanding with Moscow that would allow development of the system, prohibited by the ABM Treaty. Powell told "The Washington Post" that such an arrangement could take a variety of forms and could be something as informal as a joint communiqu rather than a new treaty to replace the ABM.