World leaders discuss nuclear test ban in Moscow Strides RTC made to control spread of materials from Russia, according to U.S.

April 21, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

MOSCOW -- President Clinton, Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin and the leaders of other industrialized nations called yesterday for a speedy enactment of a nuclear test ban and announced measures to stop the smuggling of nuclear bomb ingredients.

Their summit meeting also became noteworthy for its warm embrace of the embattled Mr. Yeltsin, who is running for re-election in June, although President Clinton was careful not to declare his preference for Mr. Yeltsin openly.

President Jacques Chirac of France, who was co-chairman of the meeting with Mr. Yeltsin, put aside any pretense of impartiality in Russia's hard-fought presidential race.

At a celebratory news conference at the Kremlin after the meeting, Mr. Chirac declared that his visit to Moscow had convinced him that the greatness of Russia was being restored.

And a visibly fatigued Mr. Yeltsin also used the occasion to assume the role of a dynamic leader of a still-powerful nation.

"The status of Russia not only as a great power, but also as one of the leading countries of the world was recognized," Mr. Yeltsin boasted.

The substance of the summit, however, was the subject of considerable debate.

U.S. officials insisted that the meeting had made important, if undramatic, strides toward controlling the spread of nuclear materials from the former Soviet Union and improving nuclear safety on a range of fronts.

Among the more important steps was a declaration by the participating nations, which also included Germany, Canada, Japan, Italy and Britain, that a total ban on nuclear tests should be negotiated by September. The ban would include small experiments in which only tens of pounds of nuclear power are released and so-called "peaceful" nuclear explosions.

That endorsement, while not a surprise, was significant because it increases the pressure on China, a major holdout in negotiations to establish a comprehensive test ban. Last month, China's representative at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, Sha Zukang, called for an exemption to the test ban treaty to allow "peaceful nuclear explosions" for scientific purposes, without elaborating.

The leaders also called for better coordination to prevent nuclear smuggling, including the sharing of intelligence and collaboration customs and law enforcement.

But many difficult questions were sidestepped.

The leaders did not call for a major infusion of additional funds to improve the security of Russian nuclear materials.

Experts outside government, and even some U.S. officials, have said that the Western nations should double their assistance to better protect bomb-grade materials in the former Soviet Union.

According to estimates by the U.S. Energy Department, this effort would take six years at the current level of financing, and some Russian experts said it could take as many as 10 years.

No major new ground was broken toward the closing of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor in Ukraine, which spewed radiation across Europe 10 years ago after a disastrous fire. The summit accords reiterated earlier understandings that the reactor is to be closed by 2000 in return for about $3 billion in Western aid.

Nor was there any discussion at the summit meeting of Russia's agreement to sell a nuclear reactor to Iran. The United States has objected to the sale, saying it would help Iran develop the ability to build a nuclear bomb. But at this point, it appears that Washington and Moscow have simply agreed to disagree.

The summit meeting took place only two months before Russia's presidential elections and as Mr. Yeltsin is seeking to improve his image by performing on the world stage.

That political tactic led Gennady Zyuganov, the Communist candidate, to suggest that the meeting was a Western effort to prop up Mr. Yeltsin.

"Although the summit was planned long ago, some see it as providing support by the West for Boris Yeltsin -- or an attempt to put pressure on Russia," Mr. Zyuganov told the Itar-Tass news agency.

Assuming the mantle of defender of Russian interests, Mr. Yeltsin proposed that all nations restrict their nuclear weapons to their own territory. That statement may reflect Russian anxiety over the proposed expansion of NATO and would inhibit U.S. military planning.

Western officials quickly rebuffed the proposal, and Mr. Yeltsin did not press it forcefully at his news conference, indicating that it was primarily intended for public effect here.

Mr. Yeltsin's performance yesterday did little to reinforce his image as a vigorous leader. As his Kremlin news conference opened, Mr. Yeltsin appeared drawn and fumbled through his notes as he sought to list the meeting's achievements.

The larger question, however, was whether the new agreements would substantially improve the safety of the Russian nuclear energy establishment.

Some public interest groups complained that the emphasis in the summit accords is on making safety improvements to these old reactors instead of shutting them down.

But Clinton administration officials insisted that they were taking a pragmatic approach, since the Russians do not want to assume the cost of closing the reactors and developing new power supplies.

Pub Date: 4/21/96

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