Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 146

Among the other question marks that hang over the resumption of Russian-U.S. arms control “consultations” (the Bush administration refuses to call them “negotiations,” a stance mirroring Moscow’s own earlier approach to missile defense talks with the United States) is what they say about parallel talks Moscow has been conducting with Beijing. Indeed, as any number of commentaries have noted, the alleged new flexibility Putin demonstrated in Genoa with respect to the ABM treaty would seem to conflict with the more uncompromising position staked out by the Russian and Chinese presidents at a summit meeting of their own held just prior to the Genoa talks. That meeting was highlighted by the signing of a twenty-year friendship and cooperation treaty (not a twenty-five year pact, as reported by the Monitor on July 18) and a separate statement reiterating joint Russian-Chinese opposition to U.S. missile defense plans. That the two leaders will continue to consult on the missile defense issue was made clear on July 26, when Putin briefed Jiang by phone on the results of the Genoa G-7 summit. Putin reportedly reiterated during that conversation that Russia’s position on the missile defense issue remained unchanged. Beijing had reacted cautiously to the agreement Putin and Bush reached during the Genoa meeting, and yesterday offered an equally cautious endorsement of the latest Russian-U.S. strategic consultations (, July 26; AFP, July 27, 30).

Indeed, amid the hubbub of the recent Russian-U.S. talks an earlier initiative by the Kremlin to internationalize discussion of key strategic issues appeared to get lost in the shuffle. Putin has suggested in the past, however, that China’s interests must be taken into consideration in any Russian-U.S. talks on missile defense, and early this month he proposed that the five established nuclear powers–the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China–begin regular consultations on the question of radically cutting offensive nuclear arsenals (see the Monitor, July 11). The Bush administration, which is seeking to avoid complicated negotiations over strategic arms reductions, is presumably unsympathetic to the Russian five-power initiative. It is likely to feel even more antipathy toward an additional Russian proposal–one floated last week by a top Russian Security Council official–that calls for including in talks on the ABM Treaty not only the other nuclear powers, but also such “rogue” states as North Korea and Iran. “We think that the maximum number of countries involved in missile technology should be included in this process, including those labeled as ‘unstable,'” Security Council Deputy Secretary Oleg Chernov told reporters on July 27 (AFP, July 27; Interfax, July 30).

Whether Russian initiatives of this sort will prove to be a practical impediment to Russian-U.S. strategic arms talks will become clearer only in the weeks and months to come. For now, the two sides will proceed on the basis of what was agreed upon during Rice’s visit to Moscow last week–a schedule of meetings between top Russian and U.S. defense officials. The talks will kick off on August 7-8 when a Russian military delegation, led by General Staff First Deputy Chief Colonel General Yury Baluevsky, will visit the United States. That is to be followed on August 13 when U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will begin a Moscow visit. The Russian and U.S. presidents, meanwhile, are themselves scheduled to meet twice more this year, including at Shanghai in October and in the United States in November.