Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov warned yesterday that Russia will not reduce its nuclear-weapons stockpiles if the United States deploys a missile-defense system.
His warning, delivered first at the United Nations in New York, and later to President Clinton in Washington, came as a U.N. human rights panel in Geneva called for an investigation of purported Russian war crimes in Chechnya.
Mr. Ivanov met with Mr. Clinton at the White House and was to meet today with Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright on the flap over nuclear disarmament and missile defenses.
Russian President-elect Vladimir Putin recently won parliamentary approval of the START II arms-reduction treaty as well as the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.
Russian approval of both arms-control accords is conditioned on there being no change in the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, which bans deployment of a missile shield to knock down incoming warheads.
“Our position is our security will be better protected if the treaty is kept intact,” Mr. Ivanov told reporters after meeting Mr. Clinton for a half-hour in the Oval Office.
Mr. Ivanov said he gave Mr. Clinton a letter from Mr. Putin saying that he was interested in “constructive relations and dynamic relations in all areas of our interaction,” and wanted a dialogue on security issues, regional conflicts and bilateral relations, primarily economic issues.
He said while the overall balance in U.S.-Russian relations has been positive in recent years, “it is quite natural” that the two countries will have disagreements, “sometimes of a major scale.”
Mr. Clinton expressed interest in Mr. Putin’s plans for economic reform and steps to deal with crime and corruption and strengthening the rule of law, said Mike Hammer, a spokesman for the White House National Security Council.
But he said the U.S. side would not give up trying to convince Russia that a national missile defense would not represent a threat to the strategic arms balance.
START II, ratified by the U.S. Senate in 1996, had languished in Russia under previous President Boris Yeltsin. The Senate recently rejected the test-ban treaty.
Facing strong Republican congressional backing for a limited missile defense against rogue states such as North Korea or Iraq, Mr. Clinton is expected to make a decision on deployment of a National Missile Defense (NMD) later this year.
While most early tests of anti-missile missiles have ended in failure, the program has aroused concern in China and Russia that the United States is seeking to become the sole nuclear superpower, immune to any retribution.
European allies of the United States are also concerned that they could be left outside any nuclear shield or that arms-control mechanisms will be undermined.
Mr. Ivanov’s speech at the U.N. conference on the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) put Russia in clear opposition to the NMD, which would require amending the ABM Treaty.
“One has to be fully aware of the fact that the prevailing system of arms control agreements is a complex and quite fragile structure,” Mr. Ivanov said. “Once one of its key elements has been weakened, the entire system is destabilized.”
“The collapse of the ABM Treaty would, therefore, undermine the entirety of disarmament agreements concluded over the last 30 years,” he concluded.
Baker Spring of the Heritage Foundation said that the United States should not give in to Russian pressure to defer the missile-defense system.
“The Senate should not allow a missile system for America to be held hostage to false choices about arms control,” wrote Mr. Spring in a Heritage policy paper last week.
However Spurgeon M. Keeny Jr., president of the Arms Control Association, a group favoring reducing weapons stockpiles, said that the United States should not build NMD and that fears of North Korea and other rogue states have been deliberately exaggerated.
“The world looks in disbelief at the spectacle of the only remaining superpower cringing in terror at the prospect that a weak, impoverished North Korea might develop a missile capable of reaching the United States, and wonders what the true U.S. motives are in seeking a NMD,” wrote Mr. Keeny last week.
Also yesterday, the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva accused Russia of widespread violations in Chechnya and called on Moscow to investigate charges by human rights groups that Russian troops had murdered and raped Chechens during a bloody campaign to crush Muslim separatists.
U.S. officials welcomed the measure.
State Department spokesman James P. Rubin said the United States, like the commission, wanted a full Russian investigation that met international standards into reports of rights violations during its military campaign in the mostly Muslim region on Russia’s southwestern flank.