U.S. Joins Chemical Arms Audit
Sands, David R., The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
Byline: David R Sands
Russia and the United States have agreed to a joint audit of Russia's huge chemical weapons-stockpile management program, former Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin said yesterday.
Mr. Stepashin, now chairman of the Russian government's primary auditing agency, said he had agreed to the joint audit in talks with General Accounting Office head David Walker this week.
The investigation will look into the efficiency of the equipment provided to destroy the chemical weapons and into how U.S. money for the program is being spent.
"As Russia has about half of the world's chemical weapons stocks, this is an issue that's important not just for us but for world security," said Mr. Stepashin, who met with reporters at the Russian Embassy.
Congress lifted a two-year block on U.S. funding for the chemical weapons program in August. Russia spent $100 million on the program this year and has budgeted $200 million for 2002, Mr. Stepashin said.
But he added that a proposed $2 billion U.S. contribution was critical if the program was to move forward.
Originally intended to destroy the former Soviet Union's chemical weapons stocks by 2007, the program now calls for their elimination by 2012.
Mr. Stepashin said the joint U.S.-Russian audit would bolster confidence that the program was being managed wisely. The Russian official said he had floated the idea that Russia could shoulder the bulk of the costs of the chemical-weapons destruction program - estimated at $10 billion to $15 billion over the next decade - in return for an equal amount of forgiveness on some $67 billion in Soviet-era government debts.
Vice President Richard B. Cheney, who met with Mr. Stepashin by teleconference from an undisclosed location because of security concerns growing out of the September 11 attacks, agreed to form a joint working group to consider the idea and the program's long-term financing.
Mr. Stepashin said he discussed with GAO officials the U.S.-led campaign to cut off funding for terrorist organizations in the wake of September 11. …