Meeting at the 26th session of the Special Verification Commission (SVC), representatives of the United States, Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan signed an agreement December 14 that regulates completion of inspections under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. The SVC is a forum for discussing INF Treaty-related issues.
While the INF Treaty is of unlimited duration, the agreement will facilitate the completion of "continuous portal monitoring," which allowed the parties to keep tabs on what entered and exited U.S. and Russian intermediate-range missile assembly plants, according to the State Department. Those plants are located in Magna, Utah, and Votkinsk, Russia. Monitoring will cease at midnight May 31, 2001, as called for by the treaty.
According to a U.S. government official, while the monitoring regime will end, countries will be able to continue to verify compliance through "national technical means" (satellite surveillance, for example) and other "data collection" methods. Furthermore, while INF inspections will cease, monitoring will continue at Votkinsk under the START I agreement. No START monitoring is conducted at Magna.
The INF Treaty, which entered into force June 1, 1988, banned all ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500-5,500 kilometers. The treaty was negotiated by the United States and Soviet Union. After the latter's dissolution, the United States informed the 12 successor states to the Soviet Union that it considered them all bound by the provisions of the treaty. Four of those states—Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan—and the United States actively participate in regular meetings of the SVC.
In related news, Russia has complained in recent sessions of the SVC that the U.S. "Hera" missile violates the INF Treaty. The missile, composed of the two upper stages from a defunct three-stage Minuteman II missile, is used as a target for U.S. theater missile defense testing. According to U.S. government officials, Washington was initially "puzzled" by the Russian complaint, but Russian officials have persisted in raising it during the past year. Ambassador Steven Steiner, U.S. representative to the SVC, said that the United States feels use of the Hera booster system is in full compliance with its obligations under the INF Treaty.