Clinton expected to discuss Ukraine Republic is key to completion of arms treaty THE VANCOUVER SUMMIT

April 04, 1993|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,Staff Writer

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- President Clinton will press Boris N. Yeltsin today on ways to stabilize Russia's rocky relationship with its newly independent neighbor Ukraine and thus break an impasse in implementing historic cuts in long-range nuclear weapons.

Pushed to the sidelines as the leaders search today for ways to rescue Russia's economy, the fate of two sweeping arms-control deals and prospects to stem further weapons proliferation are at their most precarious state in months.

After opening their summit yesterday with their joint overriding priority of advancing democracy and market reform with short- and long-term Western aid, the two presidents will deal with security issues and foreign policy.

START cuts not begun

Nearly a year after the United States, Russia, and three %o neighboring former Soviet republics put their final imprimatur on the Strategic Arms Reductions Treaty (START I) in Lisbon, Portugal, the deep cuts called for have not been formally begun.

A second, shorter pact signed in January by former President George Bush and Mr. Yeltsin and requiring even deeper cuts, START II, is hostage to both Russian-Ukrainian friction and Russia's political crisis.

In the talks today, Mr. Clinton is expected to stress that an improved relationship between Ukraine and Russia is important for the United States.

"We'll want to listen to hear what President Yeltsin says about the future of that relationship as an important issue for us," a senior official said here.

The official said that "there are a series of questions, economic and security, that involve the Russian-Ukrainian relationship and also our relationship with Ukraine and with Russia."

The United States and Russia also have yet to begin negotiations on a treaty to ban further nuclear testing. How seriously that issue is treated, says Dunbar Lockwood of the Washington-based Arms Control Association, could have an impact on other states' willingness to continue forswearing nuclear weapons.

On other foreign policy issues, the United States will try to ensure continued Russian cooperation on pressuring Bosnian Serbs to approve a peace agreement with Croats and Muslims in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher opened the door yesterday to reopening negotiations on a pact mediated by Lord Owen of the European Community and Cyrus R. Vance, representing the United Nations, to make the pact more palatable to the Serbs, who rejected the plan Friday.

The United States is also working to overcome Russian objections to further sanctions against the Serbs, with whom the Russians have historic ethnic and political ties. The strengthened sanctions would include freezing Serbian assets abroad and halting transshipment of goods through Serbia.

One source of continued friction is Russian arms sales to countries, such as Iran, that are hostile to the United States. A Yeltsin spokesman, Anatoly Krasikov, said yesterday that the West could wean Russia from these sales both by subsidizing the conversion of its arms industries to consumer enterprises and by lowering customs barriers to Russian exports.

Mr. Christopher, interviewed on CNN, said that Russia had refrained from certain arms sales, adding, "Their cooperation has been good up to this point."

In opening talks yesterday, Mr. Clinton raised two sore spots between Russia and its neighbors: the Baltics, where Russian troop withdrawal has been halted, and Georgia, whose independence Mr. Yeltsin continued to back.

The threat that an arms race and menacing nuclear competition once again could dominate East-West relations, if Mr. Yeltsin's reform effort fails, lurks in the background of summit discussions and is the key Western motive for assisting Russia.

In his radio address yesterday, Mr. Clinton said, "Russia still holds over 20,000 strategic and tactical nuclear warheads. We are implementing historic arms control agreements that for the first time will actually reduce the level of strategic nuclear weapons."

Speaking Thursday at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Mr. Clinton also said he would "suggest steps both of us can take to stem the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, something that will be a major, major cause of concern for years to come."

Even with Mr. Yeltsin's questionable political survival, no one sees an imminent threat of renewed superpower nuclear tension. The pending treaties would not wipe out a theoretical nuclear threat in any event.

But the fate of these traditional arms pacts adds another element of uncertainty to the disintegration of the former Soviet empire.

Testifying at a congressional hearing last week, Secretary of Defense Les Aspin noted that if an authoritarian regime took power in Moscow, "the nuclear force [reduction] . . . is imminently reversible, and in a very short amount of time."

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