- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 10, 2002

The United States and Russia were at odds yesterday over a U.S. decision to curtail some disarmament projects because of concerns about Russian compliance with treaties banning biological and chemical weapons.
Moscow expressed "bewilderment" with Washington's decision, which it called "incomprehensible," and insisted it is observing both pacts.
It also accused the United States of undermining the disarmament efforts both sides have been waging for years.
"Such actions can have the most negative impact on achieving mutual trust and can be reflected in the two countries' cooperation in liquidating weapons of mass destruction and in the sphere of nonproliferation," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Yakovenko in a statement.
But U.S. officials brushed aside the harsh words and said the Russians "seem to have received the message" that the Bush administration is serious about complying with the biological and chemical weapons conventions.
At stake are some military exchanges and U.S. help in preventing the theft of Russian nuclear warheads. Such programs are part of a $370 million effort initiated by Congress in 1991 under the Cooperative Threat Reduction Act.
Under current law, the U.S. government has to certify each year whether Russia is committed to abiding by existing arms control agreements.
A State Department official said the administration had requested that Congress adopt legislation to allow a waiver of the annual certification requirement.
The waiver option would still allow the administration to show concern over Moscow's commitment but would not block funds for disarmament projects.
Until then, however, "new funds may not be obligated, and we are not signing any new contracts with private vendors that provide hardware and services," the official said in an interview.
"Ongoing projects will continue until the contracts expire," and they will not be renewed until either the waiver comes into force or the administration is satisfied with Russian compliance, he said.
The administration informed Moscow of its decision several weeks ago, the official said, but it didn't become public until an article about it appeared in the New York Times on Monday.
The decision was prompted by a series of recent actions by Moscow, including its refusal to share a bioengineered strain of anthrax developed by Russia's scientists despite repeated promises to do so, the paper said.
Russia has also declined to provide a complete history of the decades of secret work on biological and chemical weapons during the Soviet era.
But in Moscow, Mr. Yakovenko dismissed those accusations and said any problems between the former foes should be discussed before making decisions with serious consequences.
"One gets the impression that the American references to Russia's supposed nonfulfillment of its international obligations are being used basically in order to distract attention from the United States' own actions," he said.
Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, said it is vital that Russia and other states comply with chemical and biological weapons agreements, but it is not in the U.S. security interests to "stymie efforts to safeguard nuclear stockpiles in Russia."

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