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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 10, November 1996

First-stage US-Russia missile defence agreement collapses

On 30 October, Russia pulled out of a signing ceremony, scheduled for the next day, due to seal an agreement defining low-velocity anti-missile systems permissible under the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. The agreement was announced in New York on 23 September by US Secretary of State Warren Christopher and Russia's Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov (see last issue for statement and details). The Russian decision apparently shocked, and even angered, the US side. State Department spokesperson Nicholas Burns told reporters on 30 October:

"There'll be no signing ceremony in Geneva on Thursday... We're disappointed by Russia's reversal of its own position... The Russian Foreign Minister made a very specific agreement with Secretary of State Christopher. We expect that should be honoured..."

Russia also expressed, in the words of Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mikhail Demurin on 31 October, "surprise and regret" at the development, claiming that the documents to be signed had not been finalised. Russia, he said, was "prepared to sign all the...documents, provided, of course, they are fully and properly prepared." Demurin added that Russia had been expecting that a fresh assessment of progress towards agreement concerning high-velocity systems would be made before the accord on low-velocity systems would be finalised: "Our starting point is that the Deputy Foreign Ministers must review the progress in work on the second stage of limitations." Russia's interpretation of the agreed linkage between the two parts of the agreement was described by Burns (30 October) as an attempt "to merge elements of Part One with Part Two, which, of course, is contrary to the joint statement issued in September."

The cancellation ushered in a frantic bout of talks in Geneva. However, on 2 November it was reported that the forum for the talks, the ABM Treaty's Standing Consultative Committee (SCC), had been adjourned with no breakthrough made. Russia's Foreign Ministry said in a 2 November statement that the talks had proved ineffective "because the American side in Geneva was not represented at the agreed level." Russia's team was led by Deputy Foreign Minister Georgy Mamedov; the US side by Stanley Riveles, long-time head of the US SCC delegation. Russia had reportedly been expecting Under-Secretary of State Lynn Davies to head the US team.

The statement also suggested that the US announcement of the cancellation of the signing ceremony had been premature, inappropriate and

damaging: "the talks had not yet started and a State Department spokesperson [Mr. Burns] had already pronounced the death sentence on them." The statement then made the claim that the US was offering "no guarantees for non-deployment - not to speak about testing - of relevant systems during the period necessary for the completion of talks."

Reports: Russia reneges on missile defenses deal, Reuter News Reports, 30 October; Moscow 'surprised' by US stand on missiles, Reuter News Reports, 31 October; US, Russia negotiators seek anti-missile compromise, Reuter News Reports, 1 November; US, Russian officials work flat out on arms deal, Reuter News Reports, 1 November; US and Russia trade blame for failure to sign ABM accord, Armed Forces Newswire Service, 1 November; Moscow blames US for missile talks stalemate, Reuter News Reports, 2 November; US, Russia recess bid to break impasse on missile testing accord, AP Datastream International News Wire, 2 November; ABM talks adjourn, OMRI Daily Digest, No. 214, Part I, 4 November; US and Russia unable to resolve ABM differences, Armed Forces Newswire Service, 5 November; Russians blame US for failure to sign ABM Treaty revisions, Armed Forces Newswire Service, 7 November.

© 1999 The Acronym Institute.

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