Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 167

A busy weekend for Russian government leaders in Auckland, New Zealand, produced the expected allotment of declarations and rhetoric but apparently little in the way of substantive developments. The Russian itinerary in Auckland was topped by a meeting between Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and his U.S. counterpart Madeleine Albright on September 10, and by talks yesterday between Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Bill Clinton. Putin also met with Chinese President Jiang Zemin, Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi and South Korean Foreign Minister Hong Sun-yong. All the talks took place on the margins of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum.

The Russian-U.S. talks appeared to focus especially on two issues: the widening Russian moneylaundering scandal and recent Russian-U.S. arms control efforts. The first issue reportedly dominated a one-hour meeting between Putin and Clinton–their first since Putin’s appointment as premier–which took place yesterday. Clinton was quoted as having urged Moscow to deal effectively with the banking scandal because, in Clinton’s view, corruption could “eat the heart out of Russian society.” According to U.S. National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, Putin admitted that moneylaundering was a problem in Russia–as in other countries–and proposed that Moscow and Washington “develop a cooperative approach… to the problem.” Clinton also reportedly raised yet again the issue of Russian military technology leaks to Iran, and won from Putin the usual admission that such leaks are a threat to Russia as well as to the West.

With regard to arms control, the talks between Ivanov and Albright and those between Putin and Clinton appeared to have done little to break a deadlock between the two sides over recent U.S. proposals to amend the 1972 ABM Treaty. The weekend’s discussions in Auckland follow two recent, unsuccessful sessions between Russian and American negotiators on the issue, the most recent one taking place last week in Moscow. U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen is expected to put Washington’s case to the Russians once again during two days of talks in Moscow which are scheduled to begin today. A Russian delegation headed by Deputy Foreign Minister Georgy Mamedov–who, along with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, cochairs a joint arms control working group–will then travel to the United States later this month for more negotiations.

But Russian officials this weekend gave no indication that they intend to drop their opposition to U.S. calls for alterations in the ABM treaty. Washington is calling for the changes on the grounds that a growing ballistic missile threat from so-called rogue nations–North Korea and Iran in particular–has compelled the United States to pursue development of a limited national missile defense system. Russia, however, has accused Washington of exaggerating the missile threat. Russian officials have also warned that U.S. missile defense plans would violate the ABM treaty and thus, in Moscow’s view, undermine strategic stability.

This view was apparently reemphasized by Ivanov and Putin over the weekend, despite Albright’s presentation of new U.S. intelligence estimates laying out the dangers posed by North Korean and Iranian missile development programs. Putin nevertheless was said to have told Clinton that Moscow wants the arms control negotiations to continue. The Russian premier also reportedly offered fresh assurances that the Russian government will try to win ratification by the State Duma of the START II treaty. But he warned that, under current circumstances, ratification would not come easily (Reuters, September 10-12; AFP, September 11; Kyodo, Russian agencies, September 12).