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    Nations Agree to Accelerate Arsenal Cuts

    By Thomas W. Lippman
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Thursday, September 29, 1994; Page A26

    The security agreements announced yesterday by President Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin will accelerate the shrinkage of both nations' nuclear arsenals and promise a Moscow-Washington partnership in upcoming arms negotiations, but they leave difficult issues unresolved.

    In the aggregate, administration officials and independent analysts said, Russia and the United States are now in a position where they have agreed to reduce their arsenals further, have committed themselves to share information that used to be among the world's deepest secrets and have said they will work together to prevent freebooting -- the theft and diversion of nuclear materials -- in the rest of the world. But they are far from agreement on exactly how these goals will be reached.

    For example, administration officials said, nothing done at the summit will accelerate Russia's fulfillment of an earlier agreement to stop operating three reactors that still produce plutonium usable in nuclear weapons.

    Nor did the two leaders make an effort to reach agreement on how to define a defense against short- and intermediate-range missiles that would comply with the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Clinton and Yeltsin settled for an agreement to instruct subordinates to resolve this issue, one of the most arcane and controversial on the current arms control agenda, "in the shortest possible time."

    In the biggest surprise of the summit, the two presidents agreed that once the START I arms reduction treaty is in effect and the START II treaty ratified, they would remove enough nuclear missiles from active service to get down to the weapons level specified in START II without waiting until 2003, as that treaty provides.

    This would remove 5,600 Russian warheads and about half that many U.S. warheads from "active duty" years ahead of schedule, a senior Defense Department official said. Removing the warheads from missiles would not achieve the "irreversibility" called for in START II, which provides for dismantling the weapons and their launch silos, but would take them off line, like a gun from which the bullets are removed, the official said.

    But there is a catch: Russian implementation of the START I treaty is to begin only when Ukraine -- formerly a part of the Soviet Union -- accedes to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as a non-nuclear state. This is a step Ukraine repeatedly has pledged to take since gaining independence from Moscow.

    "I am optimistic that Ukraine is ready," a senior Pentagon official said yesterday. "My hope is that {Ukraine's parliament} will accede to the NPT in the next two months."

    He said Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma will be told in strong terms when he visits Washington in November that Ukraine's place in the world community will be measured by its performance on this issue.

    All previous arms reduction agreements between Washington and Moscow have focused on strategic, or long-range, weapons. The Clinton administration's strategy going into this summit, senior officials said, was to persuade Russia to begin reducing its tactical, or shorter-range, arsenal as well.

    The objective was to convince the Russians that the reductions in delivery systems recently announced by Defense Secretary William J. Perry -- cutting the U.S. nuclear bomber fleet and eliminating the nuclear capability of the surface Navy -- should induce the Russians to undertake a similar unilateral commitment.

    According to the joint communique, this initiative may succeed. "The presidents agreed," it said, "that each side would independently consider further unilateral steps, as appropriate, with regard to their respective nuclear forces."

    U.S. officials said this is an urgent matter because Russia's arsenal of tactical weapons is scattered at scores of military sites controlled by local commanders rather than by Moscow, increasing the danger that weapons or nuclear materials could be stolen or sold. This "loose nukes" threat is regarded by U.S. officials as a more serious threat to world peace and U.S. national security than the possibility of a nuclear attack by Russian strategic missiles.

    Part of the problem, several officials said, is that nobody in the United States knows the size of Russia's tactical arsenal. But that should soon change because Clinton and Yeltsin agreed to "exchange detailed information ... on aggregate stockpiles of nuclear warheads and on their safety and security."

    They also agreed to "improve confidence in and increase the transparency and irreversibility of the process of reducing nuclear weapons." This is nuke-speak for reciprocal inspections and verification.

    Past agreements, such as one negotiated last spring authorizing inspection of each other's plutonium storage facilities, have run aground on traditions of secrecy and legal obstacles to sharing secret data.

    The new commitment, combined with a new U.S. law allowing some classified data to be exchanged with Russia, "goes much further than we have before in that regard," a senior official said.

    © Copyright 1994 The Washington Post Company

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