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U.S., Russia Grapple With Arms Issues

Security: Powell and his counterpart fail to resolve differences on reductions. The nations seek to reach a pact before summit.

April 12, 2002|ROBIN WRIGHT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MADRID — Preparing for next month's U.S.-Russia summit, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell met here Thursday with Russian Foreign Minister Igor S. Ivanov but failed to resolve central issues of a new nuclear arms reduction agreement.

Both sides still hope that an accord codifying their new strategic relationship will be the centerpiece of the summit.

However, significant differences remain on how to count the number of nuclear warheads in their arsenals. After months of tough negotiations, the two nations have agreed to reduce their warheads by about two-thirds over the next decade--to between 1,700 and 2,200 on each side. The current range is 6,000 to 7,000 warheads.

Russia argues that the count must be based on the actual number of warheads, while the United States wants it to be focused on launchers, even if a launch platform can hold six warheads. In addition, the United States proposes keeping some decommissioned weapons in storage.

Both issues are important to Moscow because Russia no longer can afford to support a larger arsenal.

At a joint news conference, Ivanov described the reductions as the "most complex" issue in the negotiations and said that Russia wants the reductions to "be real, not virtual."

A second major issue still to be resolved is how to prove that the two nations have made cuts and are not developing new warheads. Russian President Vladimir V. Putin wants a more formalized agreement partly in order to stipulate these matters.

"Discussions are progressing, but some tough issues are still to be dealt with," said a senior State Department official traveling with Powell. "Both sides want to show there's a new strategic relationship and that they're doing a lot together."

The Bush administration originally balked at signing anything resembling a new treaty. But with Powell prevailing in discussions within the U.S. government, the two countries now are aiming for a less formal but legally binding agreement.

"It will be short, to the point. It will talk about reductions down to the levels that both presidents have announced and how we satisfy ourselves with how we will get to those levels, plus the usual other various items that one would find in such an agreement," Powell told reporters traveling with him.

But, he added, "it will include, hopefully, all of the transparency and rollover of previous verification provisions that we've had on other treaties."

Powell and Ivanov exchanged new drafts in Madrid. The United States provided a proposal on how to count the arms reductions, and the Russians provided a new proposal on transparency.

The senior State Department official said there is a fundamental difference between the proposed new agreement and past treaties, which were based on distrust.

Ivanov said "intensive negotiations" would continue in advance of the late May summit in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

In an indication of how the Middle East and South Asia are dominating the U.S. foreign policy agenda, the American and Russian delegations ended up talking at length about the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, Afghanistan and Iraq, according to U.S. officials.

Russia is offering to help ensure that the Israeli-Palestinian fighting does not spark a full-scale conflict along the Lebanese border. Moscow has already talked to officials in Syria and Iran, countries with which it has long and deep relations as an arms supplier and political ally.

Ivanov pledged that Russia would provide "all necessary assistance" to Powell's mission to defuse the Mideast crisis.

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