Yeltsin announces readiness to sign second arms-reduction pact with Bush

December 19, 1992|By Robert Benjamin | Robert Benjamin,Beijing Bureau

BEIJING -- In a surprise announcement, Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin said yesterday that Russia is ready to sign a second nuclear arms reduction treaty with the United States at a January summit meeting.

But U.S. officials indicated that Mr. Yeltsin may have been jumping the gun, saying they have no firm deal on further nuclear weapons cuts.

"I can tell you now that a START II agreement has been prepared for a two-thirds cut in strategic nuclear weapons between Russia and the United States, and it can be signed at the beginning of January of next year," Mr. Yeltsin said, departing from the prepared text of a speech to a group of Chinese intellectuals.

Meanwhile, wire services reported that Mr. Yeltsin cut short his China trip today and headed to Moscow to "restore order" and fight to keep key reformers in his Cabinet.

"They have begun too early to fight for [government] portfolios, to pull apart the Cabinet, and so the boss must return and restore order there," Mr. Yeltsin told reporters at Beijing airport.

Mr. Yeltsin said his main concern was attempts by new Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin to replace Cabinet members appointed by his predecessor, Yegor Gaidar, a close Yeltsin ally and main architect of Russia's free-market reforms.

There was no immediate comment from Mr. Chernomyrdin, who was reported to be on an official visit to Kazakhstan.

At a news conference yesterday, Mr. Yeltsin said that the summit meeting is tentatively planned to be held in Alaska with President Bush. The new treaty would "give tranquillity to the world," he said.

The purpose of the timing of Mr. Yeltsin's announcement -- on the second day of a three-day visit to China -- was not immediately clear.

It prompted speculation that he may be trying to pressure the United States into bearing more of the cost of the Russian arms reductions or,

alternatively, to assuage U.S. concerns over a possible Sino-Russian alliance.

His timing also may be intended to distract world attention from the growing Russian sales of a wide variety of conventional arms to China, sales believed to be a key purpose of Mr. Yeltsin's visit, his first here.

In Brussels, Belgium, U.S. Secretary of State Lawrence S. Eagleburger said a January summit meeting is just "a possibility" right now, adding that no agreement on further nuclear arms reductions has been firmly reached.

"I hope he's right," Mr. Eagleburger said, "but we have to see."

"We're getting close [to a treaty]. We're hopeful. but that's the best we can say," said Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater in Washington.

The United States and the former Soviet Union signed the first Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) in 1991, reducing total nuclear warheads on each side to 6,000.

Last June, Mr. Yeltsin and President Bush signed a general agreement for a second START treaty that would further reduce each side's warheads to a maximum of 3,500 and eliminate all of Russia's heavy intercontinental ballistic missiles.

While President Bush has been eager to sign this second treaty before he leaves office Jan. 20, disagreements over bearing the costs of the reductions have delayed a final agreement.

At his press conference, Mr. Yeltsin alluded to this problem, saying that the $400 million offered to Russia by the United States for the cost of the arms reductions is too little.

But Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev told the Associated Press yesterday that, while some technical disagreements remain, a breakthrough was recently achieved at a Stockholm conference.

"President [Yeltsin] is right to say that a political decision has been taken and the agreement can be signed in January," Mr. Kozyrev said.

Mr. Yeltsin's announcement cheered his Chinese hosts, who have repeatedly called for the world's largest nuclear powers to reduce their arsenals.

The Russian president also agreed with China that, until the United States and Russia have reduced their nuclear arms to a "minimum sufficiency level," it was not appropriate to ask the world's other three acknowledged nuclear powers -- China, England and France -- to disarm.

Mr. Yeltsin signed two dozen agreements here -- agreements marking what both nations hailed as a new, non-ideological stage in their relations.

He was to make a one-day tour of the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone in southern China, but unexpectedly cut short his visit this morning and returned home, saying he had to "restore order" and fight to keep key reformers in his Cabinet.

A joint declaration signed yesterday pledges that Russia and China will not join "any military or political alliance against the other" or sign any agreement hurting each other's "sovereignty and security interests."

Key among the new Sino-Russian agreements are those providing for unspecificed military cooperation, border troop reductions commensurate "with good neighborly relations" and the building of a $2.5 billion nuclear power plant here, which China will repay with machinery, consumer goods and some hard currency.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.