Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 166

Two days of talks in Moscow have apparently done little to break a deadlock in arms control negotiations between Russia and the United States. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, who headed the American delegation at the talks, departed Moscow yesterday amid reports suggesting that the latest round of negotiations had failed to narrow differences between Moscow and Washington over changes which the United States would like to make to the 1972 ABM treaty. A terse Russian Foreign Ministry statement issued yesterday appeared to bear out that conclusion. It restated Moscow’s insistence that previous arms control agreements–clearly a reference to the ABM treaty–must be strictly observed.

The difficulty of this week’s talks was not unexpected. Although Presidents Boris Yeltsin and Bill Clinton had agreed in June of this year to reopen discussions both on amendments to the ABM treaty and on a possible START III accord, a first round of talks on those issues in Moscow last month had also ended badly. Indeed, the chief Russian delegate at those talks, Grigory Berdennikov, had said that Moscow did not see “any variant which would allow the U.S. to deploy a national antimissile defense system and at the same time maintain the ABM treaty.” One of the Russian Defense Ministry’s most outspoken hawks, Colonel General Leonid Ivashov, made the same point, charging that the American effort to “alter” the ABM treaty would “destroy the entire process” of nuclear arms control. Indeed, the two sides may have clashed also over issues related to a possible START III treaty. The Russians reportedly proposed lowering ceilings for strategic warheads to 1,000-1,500 (previous proposals had envisioned a ceiling of 2,000-2,500), and banning the deployment of sea-launched cruise missiles. Neither of those proposals was acceptable to the American side (see the Monitor, August 23).

The apparent failure of the latest arms control negotiations occurred despite an intervention by the Russian and U.S. presidents. Following a deadlock on the first day of negotiations, the two sides took what was described as a “time-out” to permit the consultations between the two leaders. During a one-hour telephone conversation on Wednesday evening (September 8), Yeltsin and Clinton reportedly discussed the relevant arms control issues, as well as a host of other bilateral and international problems. Neither side provided details, however, as to what conclusions the two men might have reached with regard to differences over the ABM treaty. In any event, the presidential consultations appeared to have little effect. Although the two sides returned for a second day of talks yesterday, there was no evidence of any progress (International and Russian agencies, September 8-9).