- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 20, 2001

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. He said Russian financial officials were working to build relationships with the country's banks to deny terrorists access to the financial system.
He said Russia may have special expertise from its long struggle with Islamic fundamentalist groups in Chechnya, which Moscow contends have extensive links to the terrorist network of Osama bin Laden.
"We know very well that the Chechen terrorists and bin Laden's networks used some of the same schemes to get financing," he said.
On another issue, Mr. Stepashin said he was increasingly confident that talks with congressional leaders would lead to an easing of sanctions on Russian exports. He said legislation to repeal the Soviet-era Jackson-Vanik Amendment, which imposes sanctions in protest of Russia's emigration policies, could be introduced before Christmas and would almost certainly be passed next year.
He said Russia is also hoping for normal trading rights with the United States as it bids to join the World Trade Organization and is seeking the end of dumping charges that block the sale of Russian steel here.
"We are aware that the United States has to protect its internal markets, but our arguments met with understanding here," Mr. Stepashin said.
Mr. Stepashin briefly served as prime minister under former President Boris Yeltsin in 1999 before being replaced by an unknown former KGB officer named Vladimir Putin. Named chairman of Russia's Audit Chamber in April 2000, Mr. Stepashin is credited with taking on some of the country's most sacred cows.
His investigators have probed the Kremlin's notorious property division, the shaky finances of the Russian Baltic Sea enclave Kaliningrad and the financing of the war in Chechnya.
He said the cooperation he met with this week in Washington reflected the closer U.S.-Russian ties since September 11. Divisive issues such as the Chechnya campaign have faded in importance since the attacks, he said.
"I received no questions about Chechnya the whole time I was here," he said.

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