- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 11, 2000

The Joint Chiefs of Staff are opposing a Russian plan favored by the White House to cut the number of U.S. nuclear warheads by 1,000 in time for President Clinton's summit meeting in Moscow later this month.
The Russia Duma, after years of delay, ratified the START II arms treaty last month, which calls for reducing U.S. and Russian arsenals to between 3,000 and 3,500 warheads.
Both sides have agreed to further cuts as part of a new START III accord. President Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin agreed to a START III "framework" at the Helsinki summit in March 1997 that would reduce each side's arsenal by 1,000 warheads to between 2,000 and 2,500 warheads.
Russia's proposed cut of 1,000 warheads would come on top of the framework figure.
Administration officials said yesterday the chiefs and the U.S. Strategic Command favor keeping the number of warheads at the figure agreed upon at the 1997 summit.
Adm. Richard Mies, commander of U.S. strategic nuclear forces, held meetings with the military service chiefs on Monday and Pentagon policy-makers yesterday. He informed Pentagon leaders that the U.S. Strategic Command needs about 2,500 warheads to execute its nuclear deterrence and war-fighting missions.
Another meeting on the strategic arms issue will be held today inside the Pentagon's "tank," as the secure conference room is called.
The administration is preparing its internal position for Mr. Clinton's visit to Moscow. The president is expected to speak to a session of the Russian legislature, the Duma.
The Clinton administration is debating the Russian proposal and is trying to come to agreement on how to respond to the Russians in time for President Clinton's Moscow visit, which begins May 29.
A senior military official said the Department of Defense, the military chiefs and field commanders "are in the process of getting their positions together as we go into the next round of negotiations" with the Russians.
"I think right now the chiefs want to stick with the 2,500 number," the official said.
"What we're seeing right now is discussions within this department that I'm sure are going on right now at [the State Department and the White House National Security Council] on how we're going to set the stage for the new round of talks," the military official said.
Another question being debated by military and civilian leaders is whether deeper strategic nuclear arms cuts "get linked to the ABM" the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty that the administration needs to change in order to deploy a limited national missile defense in the next several years, the official said.
Moscow is opposing any deployment of a U.S. nationwide missile defense system.
Defense officials said the White House and State Department want to accept the Russian proposal for deeper cuts since the Russian nuclear arsenal is expected to fall below 2,000 warheads as a result of aging weapons systems and a lack of money for Moscow to build new missiles.
Asked if the president favors the Russian plan for deeper cuts, a White House official would say only that "we are examining the implications of Russia's proposal" for warhead levels of 1,000 to 1,500.
"Our long-standing policy is to seek further stabilizing and verifiable reductions in Russian and U.S. strategic nuclear arsenals through the START process," this official said.
Pentagon and White House officials denied there are any plans for Mr. Clinton to make a unilateral decision to cut U.S. nuclear arsenals from current levels to the warhead ceiling proposed by Russia.
Rep. Curt Weldon, Pennsylvania Republican and a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, said he was told by Pentagon officials that Mr. Clinton was working on just such a "presidential nuclear initiative."
He sharply criticized any attempt to make the cuts without consulting Congress.
"My understanding is that the president's nuclear initiative would unilaterally reduce the arsenal by half," Mr. Weldon said in an interview.
Mr. Weldon said the committee defeated an amendment yesterday to this year's defense authorization bill that would give Mr. Clinton greater authority to cut U.S. nuclear forces.
Mr. Weldon also said that the administration is considering deeper nuclear arms cuts without even completing an assessment required under law to gauge strategic nuclear stability under a future START III agreement.
"They have not even briefed Congress, and they have not done that assessment," Mr. Weldon said.
"I am dismayed and alarmed that the Clinton administration would be proposing unilateral action on the part of the U.S. that could undermine both America's security and the strategic balance between the United States and Russia," he said.
"By negotiating an agreement with Russia they know they can't get through the Congress, they are causing a split between the United States and Russia. This president has no credibility to negotiating this kind of arms control agreement just to reinvigorate the failed Russia policies of this administration and to help Al Gore's presidential campaign."
The Russians also are seeking to change the START II ban on multiple-warhead missiles, one of the key benefits of the treaty, defense officials said.
A Senate defense aide said the administration would be giving away U.S. negotiating leverage by agreeing to the Russian plan for deeper warhead reductions.
"Russian force levels are going down anyway, yet this administration insists on giving up U.S. strategic offensive force structure that we need in exchange for a [national missile defense] proposal that is just short of worthless," the aide said. "It's Clinton arms control policy at its worst. It is a desperate move by a president desperate for a place in arms control history."

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