U.S., Russia Sign START II Accords; Yeltsin Pushes for Treaty

ON SEPTEMBER 26, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeniy Primakov signed a set of agreements related to START II, codifying commitments made by the United States and Russia at the Helsinki summit in March, as part of a joint effort to obtain approval of the treaty by the Russian Duma, the lower house of parliament. Just days before the signing ceremony, held at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York, the Yeltsin administration launched a renewed effort to win approval of START II.

At Helsinki, the United States and Russia agreed in principle to delay the START II deadline for the elimination of strategic nuclear delivery vehicles from January 1, 2003, to December 31, 2007. The new treaty protocol, which must be ratified by each side before entering into force, preserves the accord's original 10 year reduction period, but instead of occurring from 1993 to 2003, the sides now have from 1997 to 2007 to complete the required reductions.

In addition, the United States and Russia issued a "Joint Agreed Statement" in New York that enables the United States to "download" (remove warheads from) Minuteman III ICBMs under START II "at any time before December 31, 2007." Previously, the United States was required to download its Minuteman IIIs within seven years of START I's entry into force (December 5, 2001). In a September 26 background briefing, a senior Clinton administration official said the Joint Agreed Statement provides for "reciprocity" because now the downloading of both Minuteman IIIs and Russian SS 19s under START II does not have to be completed until the end of 2007.

Albright and Primakov also exchanged letters codifying the Helsinki commitment that the United States and Russia will deactivate by December 31, 2003, all strategic nuclear delivery vehicles to be eliminated under START II (for the United States the MX ICBM and for Russia its SS 18 and SS 24 ICBMs) "by removing their nuclear reentry vehicles or taking other jointly agreed steps." Reflecting Moscow's interest in achieving a START III agreement, which will reduce the forces of each side to 2,000 2,500 deployed strategic warheads, Primakov's letter states that Russia expects the agreement to have entered into force "well in advance" of the START II deactivation deadline. Albright's letter takes note of Russia's unilateral declaration on START III.

During the signing ceremony in New York, Albright said, "Together, the ABM and START II documents we will sign here today should pave the way for the Russian Duma to ratify START II, and that will trigger deep reductions in our arsenals." Primakov said the agreements "will determine the progress of the disarmament process for many years to come" and are "an important step" in the implementation of the Helsinki joint statements.

In recent weeks, the Yeltsin administration has accelerated its efforts to achieve Duma support for START II. On September 15, Yeltsin instructed Primakov and Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev to begin the process of convincing the skeptical Duma that START II is in Russia's national security interest. During their meeting, Yeltsin reportedly said, "We are secure with 1,000 warheads, let alone with" and "We must prove to the legislators that START II is advantageous and necessary for us."

The next day, Primakov and Sergeyev briefed influential members of the Duma on the foreign policy and military implications of START II for Russia. According to various press reports, their presentation was not well received. Alexei Mitrofanov, chairman of the Geopolitics Committee, said, "This agreement [START II] was reached on the crest of a political wave when Russia was making concessions on everything. Now we have to bite back." Gennady Zyuganov, leader of the powerful Communist Party, said, "Today we were not convinced that START II should be ratified." Likewise, Lev Rokhlin, chairman of the Defense Committee, claimed that START II ratification "will complete the ruin of the Russian army."

However, Vladimir Lukin, chairman of the International Affairs Committee, stated "We don't want to be engaged in politics now. Instead, we must listen very carefully to the top experts in the country on these issues. General Sergeyev is one of them." In addition, the Russian defense minister said the briefing "yielded good results" and that the sides "reached a better understanding on many issues." Following Primakov's September 22 meeting with President Clinton at the UN General Assembly in New York, National Security Advisor Samuel Berger also indicated that the Russian foreign minister "had some higher degree of optimism" that the Duma would eventually approve START II than in previous meetings.

Most observers expect the Duma to vote on START II (as amended) by the end of this year or beginning of 1998. In his September 8 remarks before the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Robert Bell, senior director for defense policy and arms control at the National Security Council, said that once Russia ratifies START II, the Clinton administration plans on submitting a package of arms control agreements to the Senate for its advice and consent to ratification. This package will include the START II protocol and associated documents; an amendment, which has not yet been completed, making START I unlimited in duration; and three other agreements related to the ABM Treaty.