- The Washington Times - Friday, January 11, 2002

MOSCOW Setting the stage for tough talks on nuclear disarmament, Russia yesterday bristled at the Pentagon plan to downsize U.S. nuclear arsenals by putting weapons in reserve rather than destroying them.

Russia's Foreign Ministry insisted the cuts must be "irreversible" when the United States goes through with a promise by President Bush to reduce the number of operational nuclear warheads by two-thirds, or 1,700 to 2,200, by 2012.

The issue of what to do with nuclear weapons removed from duty the so-called buildup potential has been a major point of contention in previous U.S.-Russian negotiations. The latest statements from both sides signal tough bargaining ahead.

U.S. and Russian diplomats are expected to meet in Washington next week to discuss the details and timetable for the cuts in preparation for Mr. Bush's trip to Russia this spring or summer.

"Russia will push strongly for the nuclear cuts to be irreversible, but the United States is unlikely to make any major concessions," said Alexander Pikayev, a military analyst with the Carnegie Endowment's Moscow office. "Unfortunately for Russia, its position in talks is rather weak because its aging nuclear weapons are to go off-duty anyway."

Mr. Bush promised Russian President Vladimir Putin in November that his administration would cut the number of operational U.S. warheads putting the arsenal far below the 6,000 nuclear warheads each country currently is allowed under the START I agreement.

Mr. Putin has promised to cut the number of Russian warheads to as low as 1,500. He also has pushed for the cuts to be written into a formal treaty, something Mr. Bush opposes.

On Wednesday, a top Pentagon planner said the reduction plan called for some warheads to be destroyed how many was not announced while others would be rendered inactive, meaning it would take several months to get them ready to fire.

J.D. Crouch, assistant secretary of defense for international security, said the United States needs to keep the warheads in reserve in case the world situation changes. Most previous arms-control treaties do not require warheads to be destroyed, he said.

Russia's Foreign Ministry responded sharply yesterday. Ministry spokesman Alexander Yakovenko said cuts must be "irreversible, so that strategic offensive weapons aren't just reduced 'on paper.'"

Retired Maj. Gen. Vladimir Dvorkin, a former top Russian arms-control negotiator, said he expected a compromise, given the recent warmth in U.S.-Russian ties.

"I wouldn't dramatize the situation. A solution can be found by the time of Bush's visit," said Mr. Dvorkin, now an adviser to the PIR-Center, an independent Russian military policy think tank.

But Mr. Pikayev and some other analysts predicted that the United States would firmly defend its plan to keep nuclear weapons in reserve and refuse to make any major concessions.

"The resulting agreement will not be about real nuclear disarmament. It will only deceive the public," Mr. Pikayev said.

Ivan Safranchuk, who heads the Moscow office of the Washington-based Center for Defense Information, said the Pentagon wants to keep its nuclear weapons as a hedge against any new chill in U.S.-Russian relations and also as a deterrent against a potential increase in China's nuclear capability.

"Besides, it's much cheaper to keep weapons in reserve than to destroy them," he said.

It was the second time in two days that a U.S. statement on nuclear issues drew criticism from Moscow. On Wednesday, Russia firmly reiterated its commitment to a nuclear-testing ban amid indications that the United States wants to reduce the time it would take to resume tests.

Mr. Safranchuk said Russia would continue protesting even if it lacks the power to prevent the United States from going its own way.

"Russia wants to show the harm of unilateral approaches to nuclear disarmament," he said.

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