U.S., Soviets seek to calm fears on nuclear weapons Bush, Bessmertnykh both address issue THE SOVIET CRISIS

August 22, 1991|By Los Angeles Times

MOSCOW -- Although their comments were brief, lacked detail and were aimed to reassure, both President Bush and Soviet Foreign Minister Alexander A. Bessmertnykh sought yesterday to address one of the most worrisome global issues in times of turmoil for a superpower: During the Soviet coup, who controlled the nation's nuclear arms?

Those strategic Soviet forces "were under control of the competent bodies, and the structure of military command was not changed or modified in any way," Mr. Bessmertnykh said. "Fears that these forces could get out of control are groundless."

In reply to a question at his morning news conference about the Soviets' nuclear security, Mr. Bush replied: "We see no reason to be concerned about that. Our people are taking a hard look at that all the time."

So, too, are the Soviets.

As recently as last fall, Kremlin officials and the Soviet military brass ridiculed the possibility that they might confront a nuclear nightmare straight out of a Tom Clancy high-tech thriller: the Kremlin's loss of control over some deadly piece of its atomic arsenal, seized, perhaps, by a splintering republic or a terrorist group.

"The leadership of the Soviet armed forces . . . has a stake in preventing nuclear weapons from falling into unauthorized hands, with the subsequent blackmail that it would allow," a Defense Ministry spokesman, Lt. Col. Vladimir P. Lyaschenko, said in an interview, conducted before the current Soviet crisis began.

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