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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 14, April 1997

Reaction to US-Russia summit

The 20-21 March Helsinki Summit meeting between Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin produced joint statements on three key arms control issues: the START process - dealing with the timetable for START II implementation and setting out the parameters for a START III agreement; the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty - setting out the parameters of permissible defences against theater-range missiles; and the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) - praising the accord and urging both Superpower legislatures to ratify before its 29 April entry-into-force. See Documents and Sources for texts, and the assessment of both Presidents.

The Summit was held against an uneasy backdrop, with START II unratified by Russia, the CWC unratified by either State, and the future of two other agreements - the ABM Treaty and the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty - also in doubt. Overshadowing all these issues, and merging them into a single diplomatic crisis, is Russia's opposition to NATO expansion. Quoted by the Interfax news agency on 17 March, President Yeltsin set out again both the depth and the limits of Russia's concerns:

"We have sufficient deterrents, including nuclear forces. NATO is not going to risk attacking Russia... I am not concerned by an attack but by the West hemming Russia in, which will happen if NATO expands."

Reaction to the Summit

The US side seemed elated by both the atmosphere and results of the Summit: "a major Summit in which there was historic progress in...nuclear arms reduction," according to Secretary of State Albright on 21 March. Speaking alongside Albright, the President's National Security Advisor, Sandy Berger, summed up "three related breakthroughs" on nuclear arms control:

"One was a firm commitment by President Yeltsin to promptly press for Duma ratification of START II. This commitment...was facilitated by agreements on two other related matters. One is a set of guidelines...for START III, and the second is, finally, after three years of negotiation, an agreement on ABM-TMD [Theatre Missile Defence] demarcation."

Berger laid especial emphasis on the ABM breakthrough, which he described as "the issue perhaps that most time was spent on in the Summit". The agreement reached, he said, had a triple significance:

"...one, we have demonstrated that the ABM Treaty can be maintained as a cornerstone of strategic stability and still be adapted to deal with the very real threat of shorter-range missiles that we seek to deal with through our theater systems. Second of all...it confirms that all of our current systems can go forward unimpeded; and third, together with the START III guidelines, removes what has been an obstacle to START II ratification in the Duma."

Asked whether the US was surprised at the ABM breakthrough, Berger replied:

"...when it became absolutely clear that we could both preserve the ABM system [and] proceed...with [our] six [TMD] systems...that agreement fell into place. I'm not sure that we were expecting all that to happen as we got here, but the negotiations from our perspective were very successful."

Speaking before the Summit (18 March), President Yeltsin had also stressed the profound advantages of an ABM agreement. The onus, he suggested, was on the US:

"We want [nuclear] reductions, but only on reciprocal terms so that our positions on ABM...should be clear-cut, unambiguous and alike. ... If we differ in our interpretations of ABM, there will be no further START reductions... There is no further room for [Russian] concessions. The United States should make moves in order to preserve partnership."

Despite the ABM success, and other joint statements, President Yeltsin's spokesperson, Sergei Yastrzhemsky, was less than upbeat about the overall satisfactoriness of the Summit, pointing out (21 March):

"One should not forget that the decision about NATO expansion to the east remains in force. Therefore, one definitely cannot speak about a full success of Russian diplomacy...."

Russian Parliamentary reaction was generally unenthusiastic. The Chair of the International Affairs Committee, Vladimir Lukin, who attended the Summit, said (21 March) that the prospects for START II ratification had not been significantly improved:

"We can speak of ratifying START II only if there will be greater trust between the sides. And this trust has significantly diminished..."

In Moscow on 22 March, the leader of the Communist Party, Gennady Zyuganov, condemned Yeltsin as "guilty of completely betraying the national interests of the country." However, for the Liberal (Yabloko) Party, Viktor Sheinis said that "from my point of view, any step forward, even small, on this road is very important," while Galina Starovoitova of the Democratic Russia Party said the agreements "appear [to be] even better than were expected."

Reports: Clinton, Primakov to finalise agenda for Helsinki Summit, Agence France-Presse International News, 17 March; Yeltsin says US must make concessions on ABM modifications, Armed Forces Newswire Service, 18 March; Transcript - briefing by Albright, Berger, Summers on Summit, United States Information Agency, 21 March; Yeltsin may face debate on NATO, AP International News Wire, 21 March; Communists knock Summit deals, AP International News Wire, 22 March.

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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