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Yeltsin Aide Backtracks on Arms

December 03, 1997| From Associated Press

STOCKHOLM — A clearly tired Boris N. Yeltsin gave often-surprising answers at a news conference Tuesday, forcing his spokesman to tone down a declaration he made about cutting nuclear warheads.

He also misidentified Germany and Japan as having nuclear weapons and confused listeners with references to Sweden and Finland. The Russian president, who is 66, underwent open-heart surgery in November of last year but has appeared generally strong since.

Speaking to reporters after meeting with Prime Minister Goran Persson, Yeltsin unexpectedly announced the weapons cut.

"I am saying here for the first time that we are unilaterally slashing the number of our nuclear warheads by one-third," Yeltsin said, tagging his declaration onto the answer to a question.

An hour later, presidential spokesman Sergei V. Yastrzhembsky said a proposal to deepen mutual Russian-U.S. nuclear cuts had been discussed on a preliminary basis at the Helsinki summit with President Clinton in March.

But "this issue is not on the negotiating table," he added. "It has been the initiative Russia has been actively promoting. It existed on the level of heads of state, and the president has decided to make it public. It's a unilateral initiative, but it does not mean a unilateral step to cut weapons."

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