Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 145

Russia and the United States continued their post-Kosovo reconciliation efforts yesterday, announcing that they will launch a new round of strategic arms control negotiations in Moscow next month and pledging fresh efforts to boost trade and investment between the two countries. These announcements followed talks between Russian Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin and U.S. Vice President Al Gore. Stepashin, winding up a hectic three-day visit to the U.S., also met yesterday with President Bill Clinton and with U.S. congressional leaders. Later he met with World Bank President James Wolfensohn, who told reporters afterward that he had a “very positive feeling” about the Russian government’s efforts to face up to its domestic problems. Moscow is seeking a US$4.5 billion loan from the IMF and additional credit from the World Bank.

The arms control initiative was perhaps the most noteworthy development to come out of yesterday’s talks, though it was in large part a follow-up of an agreement reached by the U.S. and Russian presidents during a G-7 meeting in Cologne last month. Officials from the two countries said yesterday that the upcoming negotiations–to take place sometime in August–will focus on a START III treaty which will lower the number of warheads of each country to 2,000. Stepashin and Gore said that they would also begin a new push for Russian lawmakers to ratify the 1993 START II treaty, which calls for warhead levels of 3,500 for each side. START II was ratified by the U.S. Senate in 1996, but Russian lawmakers have used a number of foreign and domestic issues as pretexts to delay their formally considering the accord–most recently, NATO’s air campaign against Yugoslavia.

Next month’s talks will be the first negotiations on START III. The Clinton administration had until now refused to begin formal negotiations on START III until the Russian Duma had ratified START II. Gore nevertheless made it clear yesterday that Washington will not consider implementing a START III agreement until START II is ratified.

The August talks will also deal with differences between Washington and Moscow over the 1972 ABM Treaty. During last month’s G-7 summit in Cologne, Clinton reportedly won a pledge from Yeltsin that Moscow would–for the first time–consider changes sought by Washington in the ABM treaty. The changes would further U.S. efforts to deploy a nationwide missile defense system. It remains to be seen, however, whether Moscow has much intention to be flexible on the issue. Russian defense and government officials have continued to make it clear that Moscow regards the ABM treaty as the cornerstone of arms control efforts and a key to strategic stability. Russian lawmakers, meanwhile, have warned that any ratification of START II by the Duma would contain provisions allowing Russia to withdraw from the treaty if Washington violates the ABM treaty (see the Monitor, June 22).

Much as was the case during U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s talks earlier this week with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov in Singapore (see the Monitor, July 27), yesterday’s glad tidings could not obscure the fact that Russia and the United States remain divided on several key issues. Like Ivanov, Stepashin scolded the United States for what he described as Washington’s efforts to play international policeman and to appoint itself the world’s sole guardian of freedom or human rights. “It is very dangerous,” Stepashin said, for the United States to assume such a role. Stepashin also underscored differences between Washington and Moscow on the question of aid to Yugoslavia. He spoke of a looming “humanitarian catastrophe in the heart of Europe” if the United States and other Western countries maintained their opposition to aid for Serbia. Gore said that the matter would be discussed during this weekend’s summit of world leaders in Sarajevo. According to Stepashin, the Russian and U.S. presidents will deal with the same subject when they meet in September at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in New Zealand (Reuters, UPI, AP, Russian agencies, July 27).