Yeltsin sends aides to finish arms treaty 2 key ministers to see Eagleburger

December 26, 1992|By Los Angeles Times

MOSCOW -- Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin ordered his foreign and defense ministers to fly to Geneva today to try to remove the last sticking points with the United States on another ambitious disarmament treaty, a Russian spokesman said.

With the Bush administration down to its final days, officials in Moscow said that a summit could still occur in early January, but that Russia and the United States must close a deal on the arms pact first.

"The treaty is primary, the meeting is derivative," Sergei Yastrzhembski, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, told reporters yesterday.

Foreign Minister Andrei V. Kozyrev and Defense Minister Pavel S. Grachev will fly to Geneva, where they are to be joined tomorrow by U.S. Secretary of State Lawrence S. Eagleburger. The negotiators are trying to resolve remaining disagreements over a treaty to slash their nuclear arsenals by two-thirds.

"There may be slight differences, but the sides are unanimous on the main thing," Mr. Yastrzhembski stressed. Both would like to sign the accord "while the Bush administration is still in office."

The ambitious pact between the former Cold War enemies, commonly known as START II, would eliminate all land-based, multiple-warhead intercontinental ballistic missiles and cut back thermonuclear arsenals from current levels of about 10,000 warheads each to 3,000 to 3,500 over the next 10 years.

The agreement's broad outlines were signed by Mr. Bush and Mr. Yeltsin during their most recent meeting in Washington in June. But the proposed pact has aroused a hostile reaction among Russia's military and its increasingly potent right-wing, nationalist forces.

Closing a deal on the second strategic arms reduction treaty is a goal of the Bush administration, which ends Jan. 20 with President-elect Bill Clinton's inauguration. Senior U.S. officials note that the Russians seem to be trying to use that deadline

to force last-minute concessions.

While on an official visit to China, Mr. Yeltsin announced Dec. 19 that START II would be signed in early January, surprising even some of his own spokesmen. This week, the well-connected Interfax news agency claimed that the presidents would meet Jan. 2-3 in the Black Sea. resort of Sochi.

"There must have been some leaks, you know, some feelers put out to test public reaction, but so far neither the State Department nor the Russian Federation Foreign Ministry have officially announced when this meeting will take place or where," Yastrzhembski said in a semi-denial. He did not reply, when asked, if President-elect Clinton might attend, as well.

Mr. Bush, who is flying to Somalia on New Year's Eve to spend the holiday with U.S. troops there, spoke to Mr. Yeltsin for 20 minutes Thursday. It was the third phone call between the leaders this week designed to iron out problems on START II, the White House said.

American and Russian officials said that three key issues remain unresolved: restrictions on American bombers converted to carry non-nuclear payloads, destruction of silos for Russia's SS-18 missiles, and the required scrapping of its SS-19s.

Russian reservations about the last two requirements are motivated by security and economic considerations.

With its economy in a state of free fall, Russia wants to be allowed to retain silos now used to house its 308 SS-18s, instead of having to build costly new launch facilities. The United States maintains that the old silos must be destroyed so the rocket -- the most powerful nuclear weapon ever built -- cannot be revived, if the current friendly status of U.S.-Russia relations should revert to Cold War tensions.

Russia also wants to replace the multiple warheads now carried on SS-19s with a single nuclear charge, instead of being required to destroy those ICBMs and then having to spend billions to design and construct a replacement.

But deal-making with the outgoing Bush administration may be the easy part. Former Communists and right-wing forces are more powerful than ever in Russia's legislature.

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