Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 104

The Clinton administration appeared to bow to the inevitable yesterday and to admit that next month’s Russian-U.S. summit in Moscow will not produce an agreement on key arms control issues. For many months now, and through innumerable negotiating sessions, American officials have tried to persuade Moscow to accept U.S.-sought changes to the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Those changes would permit the United States to go forward with the development of a limited national missile defense system without violating the ABM accord. Despite repeated public rejections by the Russian side of the U.S.-sought changes, Clinton administration officials have continued to insist that, in private, Russian negotiators were showing enough flexibility to suggest that the two sides might finally resolve their differences. Indeed, reports pointed to a so-called “grand-bargain,” that is, an agreement by which Moscow would consent to changes in the ABM treaty in exchange for an American commitment to embrace greatly reduced levels of nuclear armaments for the two countries.

But some four days of negotiations in Moscow over the past week appear at last to have convinced the Clinton administration that there will be no arms control breakthrough at the June 3-5 summit and no “grand bargain” for the current American president. That was made clear in comments yesterday by U.S. National Security Advisor Samuel Berger, who told reporters in Washington that Moscow has refused to budge from its negative position regarding amendments to the ABM treaty. “I don’t expect these issues to be resolved at this summit,” Berger said.

The U.S. national security advisor spoke after two days of talks he conducted in Moscow late last week and in the wake of a similarly unsuccessful two days of talks by U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott which concluded in Moscow yesterday. Indeed, on his arrival in the Russian capital on Wednesday, Talbott had expressed optimism that Russian and U.S. negotiators might still resolve their differences over the ABM accord and U.S. missile defense plans. But his hopes apparently proved unjustified. He departed the Russian capital yesterday without speaking to reporters. An unnamed senior U.S. official, however, was quoted by a Russian news agency as indicating that Talbott’s arguments had fallen on deaf ears and that Moscow had indicated anew its unwillingness to modify the ABM accord.

There were also suggestions yesterday that Talbott might return to the Russian capital next week to continue preparations for the Russian-U.S. summit meeting, and it can be assumed that he will raise the same arms control issues all over again. But, as various news sources have suggested, it looks more and more as though arms control may not dominate the summit discussions to the degree that had been expected earlier. Instead, Presidents Vladimir Putin and Bill Clinton may spend significant amounts of time on a host of other bilateral and international issues (AFP, Reuters, UPI, May 25; AP, UPI, May 24; Washington Post, May 19).

Forays into other areas, of course, could prove to be as contentious as the debates over arms control issues. Russia and the United States remain deeply divided over Moscow’s war in Chechnya, and the two countries have also found themselves increasingly at odds in recent days over Moscow’s apparent decision to intensify its ties with the regime of Yugoslav President–and indicted war criminal–Slobodan Milosevic. In addition, the United States and Russia remain at loggerheads over both UN policy toward Iraq and allegations that various Russian research and defense organizations have continued to leak sensitive military technologies to Iran. Evidence that Putin’s government may be moving to crack down on Russia’s independent media provides yet one more area of possible friction during Clinton’s visit. Against this problem-filled background, the Clinton administration may find itself sorely tested in trying to achieve one of its stated goals for the June meeting: to ensure that this first summit meeting with Putin is a successful one and helps heal the tensions which have wracked Russian-U.S. relations over the past year.

The Clinton administration may get a better reading on the extent of Russia’s current commitment to friendly relations with the West during another summit meeting, one next week between Russia and the European Union. According to EU External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten, EU leaders will be looking for signs that the Russian president is able to fulfill the high hopes that his accession to power has raised in Europe. Patten suggested that the focus of the upcoming talks would be on the Kremlin’s economic reform plans, Russian policy in Chechnya, and Putin’s commitment to human rights and civil liberties. Unease has also reportedly grown in the EU over Russia’s relations with Belgrade. Like the Clinton administration, however, European leaders are also making clear that they are nevertheless approaching their summit talks with Putin in a friendly and constructive manner. Patten described the EU-Russian summit as a “real chance for us to ‘move on.'” But he added that the “success of the endeavor is going to depend above all on what happens in Russia and how comprehensive and effective the reform program turns out to be” (Reuters, May 25).