Russian Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin and Vice President Gore announced yesterday that the United States and Russia will resume arms control talks in Moscow next month as Stepashin declared that the two nations are "moving to another page" after disagreements over the war over Kosovo.
But senior Clinton administration officials pressed Stepashin to curtail Russian nuclear and missile aid to Iran, reduce the number of Russian spies in the United States and pursue economic reforms more vigorously. Stepashin, for his part, urged the United States to provide aid to Serbia and to loosen restrictions on U.S. imports of Russian goods.
The Russian prime minister clearly was striving for a positive tone during his visit, vowing to Jewish leaders last night that he would protect Moscow synagogues after recent antisemitic attacks, courting investment from American executives, and saying that bolstering defenses against missiles held by rogue states would also be in Russia's interest.
In a speech Monday night, Stepashin declared that "nothing will throw us back to the Cold War." At a joint news conference with Gore yesterday, he added that "we are entering the 21st century. We have to enter it as friends."
But much of his discussions with senior U.S. officials remained mired in unfinished business from the Cold War: nuclear arms and spying.
Gore said that although talks will begin over START III -- the next in a series of treaties to reduce nuclear arsenals -- the United States will not conclude a START III agreement until the Russian parliament, the Duma, ratifies START II, a treaty signed several years ago. Stepashin promised that his government will bring the treaty before the parliament again this fall, but its prospects remain uncertain.
Under the 1993 START II treaty, which has been ratified by the U.S. Senate, the United States and Russia would cut their nuclear arsenals to a maximum of 3,500 warheads on each side by 2003. START III would make even sharper reductions.
Gore and Stepashin said the Moscow talks would simultaneously deal with the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which the United States wants to reopen to allow the eventual deployment of a National Missile Defense system that is still under research and development.
Russia has sharply criticized the U.S. effort to develop such a system as a serious breach of the ABM Treaty that would upset the balance of nuclear threat between the two countries, but yesterday Stepashin struck a more conciliatory tone.
"This is being done not because of a threat from Russia but because of the threat from countries with complex, difficult regimes -- noncontrolled, as we call them, narrow regimes," he said. "This is a danger for Russia as well."
The two leaders suggested that Russia and the United States might cooperate on the technology for the missile defense system or on intelligence to alert each other about missile threats from third countries. Senior White House officials, however, said no details on cooperation were discussed.
Another legacy of the past, spying, also came up in yesterday's talks. U.S. officials raised concerns about the rising number of Russian spies that intelligence agencies have detected working here, ostensibly on diplomatic or other business. Clinton administration officials pressed Stepashin to withdraw some of those agents, U.S. officials said.
"Sometimes, agencies want to use old attitudes as an excuse for old budgets and old personnel rosters," Gore said.
Stepashin, a former head of Russia's counterintelligence service, said "as long as states exist, there will always be special services, intelligence communities." But he added that intelligence services should not "be allowed to hinder the establishment of political or partner-like relations" with the United States.
Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger, President Clinton's national security adviser, and Vladimir Putin, Berger's Russian counterpart, will take up the matter in private discussions, the leaders said.
Stepashin, appointed in May by Russian President Boris Yeltsin, is Russia's fourth prime minister in two years. Though he previously held key security posts and played a role in the bloody war against the secessionist region of Chechnya, Stepashin has been embraced by U.S. officials who see him as more open to the West than his predecessor, Yevgeny Primakov. Some Russia experts, however, have criticized him -- saying he lacks vision or the clout to deliver on commitments.
His visit, Stepashin's first as prime minister, comes on the eve of an International Monetary Fund board meeting that is expected to approve a $4.5 billion loan to Russia to enable it to avoid a default on earlier credits it received from the fund. The visit also gives a boost to Gore, who is trying to enhance his image for his presidential campaign. As co-chairman of the U.S.-Russian Commission on Economic and Technological Cooperation, Gore has held 11 other meetings with Russian prime ministers since 1994.
Though Gore praised Stepashin as "enjoyable" to work with and "businesslike," the two differed over aid to Serbia. The Clinton administration has opposed economic aid to the republic as long as Slobodan Milosevic remains the Yugoslav leader.
"What can we do to prepare for this coming winter when the 10 million people in this republic will basically find themselves in a humanitarian catastrophe?" Stepashin said. "This is a problem. We won't be able to avoid this. It's easy to talk about projects that are worth millions of dollars, but when we're talking about 10 million people, it's another issue."
U.S. officials pressed Russian delegation members this week to take firmer steps to stop the transfer of sensitive nuclear and missile technology to Iran. U.S. arms control officials cited specific cases of Russian companies providing missile technology to Iran, arguing that if Russia is really committed to stopping such transfers, it has the capacity to do so.
The Clinton administration has been using satellite launches as a lever to obtain Russian cooperation on Iran. In 1996, the two countries negotiated a quota of 16 launches that Russia would conduct on behalf of U.S. companies. Russia was eager to earn $50 million to $100 million for each launch. U.S. companies, such as Lockheed Martin Corp., were eager to have access to relatively inexpensive launch services and have lobbied for a higher quota.
So far, 12 satellites have been launched, and four more will be sent aloft by the end of the year. The Clinton administration has linked increases in the quota to Russian cooperation on stopping proliferation to Iran. Recently, it raised the quota by four satellites, which would give Russia an additional six months to demonstrate progress.
Stepashin's government has created internal compliance units at companies and passed a tough export control law. "Stepashin has created the foundation to fix the problem by creating the tools, but that doesn't actually stop the flows," a senior administration official said.