Russia Wants New Curbs on U.S. Defenses

By Gertz, Bill | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), July 15, 1996 | Go to article overview

Russia Wants New Curbs on U.S. Defenses


Gertz, Bill, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Russia is seeking new restrictions on advanced U.S. regional missile defenses as part of an agreement to be reached by October, a classified State Department cable says.

The cable includes a letter from Russia's foreign minister stating Moscow also demands that this second agreement to clarify the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty permit it to use nuclear warheads on its regional defense systems.

The nuclear-tipped missile defenses will help the Russians compensate for their inaccurate systems and give them the capability to knock out some U.S. long-range strategic warheads in violation of the ABM treaty, Pentagon officials said.

A copy of the cable, stamped "confidential," was obtained by The Washington Times and verified by administration sources.

The new Russian negotiating position is expected to rekindle a fierce debate within the Clinton administration over the ABM talks.

Many Pentagon and military officials oppose Russian efforts to place limits on U.S. missile defenses and what they see as efforts by arms control officials to expand the terms of the ABM treaty, which limits strategic defenses but does not cover regional defenses.

The new restrictions, if adopted as part of an agreement, would limit the Navy's wide-area regional defense known as Upper Tier and the Air Force's airborne laser system.

The June 25 cable was sent a day after U.S. and Russian negotiators in Geneva completed a session of the Standing Consultative Commission (SCC), which reviews ABM issues. They had reached a partial agreement permitting regional missile defenses that use slower-speed interceptors. The draft part-one agreement has since been completed.

But in a "Dear Chris" letter from Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeni Primakov to Secretary of State Warren Christopher, the Russians demanded limits on faster U.S. defenses as part of a second agreement. The letter was sent in response to a list of issues Washington proposed for inclusion in the second round of talks.

"The Russians have led us right back into their original demands of November 1993, and we've weakened our position by essentially accepting key elements of those restrictions," said a Pentagon official.

"This is the worst combination of everything because it brings all the Russian restraints [on U.S. missile defenses] right back into the negotiations."

After the cable was received, Thomas Pickering, U.S. ambassador to Moscow, delivered a diplomatic note warning that the demands outlined in the letter would "ensure protracted discussions," knowledgeable officials said.

The U.S. note also denied Mr. Primakov's assertion that President Clinton promised Russian President Boris Yeltsin in April there would be no tests of high-speed missile defenses for three years.

The note told the Russians the only agreement on testing faster systems is the limiting of target missiles to the characteristics of short-range weapons.

Mr. Primakov's letter referred to the U.S. "obligation" not to test the faster systems for three years and stated that the second accord must not ban regional missile defenses "equipped with nuclear warheads."

Mr. Primakov added that the Russian position is that the next round of talks must include:

* A ban on the use of targets with multiple warheads. Administration officials said such a ban invites rogue nations to develop missiles with several warheads or extra dummy warheads to thwart new missile defense trackers.

* A ban on the use of simulated strategic warheads in tests of high-speed regional missile defenses, which defense officials said would prevent tests on a key threat - the possibility that rogue nations acquire a strategic warhead and mate it to a short- or medium-range ballistic missile. …

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