Magazine article Arms Control Today

Memo: Clinton and Yeltsin on the Nuclear 'Football'

Magazine article Arms Control Today

Memo: Clinton and Yeltsin on the Nuclear 'Football'

Article excerpt

U.S. President Bill Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin, during their March 1997 summit in Helsinki, discussed over dinner their common burden of having an always-close-by nuclear "football," a briefcase containing documents and communications gear necessary to initiate nuclear war.

As described in a recently declassified U.S. memorandum, the two leaders compared experiences of having briefly surrendered nuclear authority while undergoing medical operations. Clinton talked about the U.S. procedures for passing power temporarily to the vice president. Yeltsin recalls that, at the time of his 1996 heart surgery, he briefly passed authority, and his nuclear briefcase, to Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin.

The following is an excerpt from the official U.S. memorandum of conversation, released by the Clinton Presidential Library, in which Yeltsin jokes about the brief handoff to the prime minister:

President Yeltsin: Chernomyrdin did not have very long to play with these toys.

The President: Well let's hope none of us ever have to play too much with those toys.

President Yeltsin: I have actually taken part in an exercise with the Russian "football" at one point that involved launching a warhead onto the Kamchatka Peninsula.

(The President then describes the plot of the movie "Crimson Tide" and how it has demonstrated some of the dangers of being on a nuclear-hair trigger, although he says his people have told him that the plot of "Crimson Tide" could not actually happen. …

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