Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 108

After several weeks in which Clinton administration officials in particular appeared determined to dampen expectations regarding this weekend’s Russian-U.S. summit meeting, there were hints from both sides yesterday that the Moscow talks could yet produce a surprise or two in the area of arms control. Speaking to reporters in Portugal, where he is in the midst of a series of meetings with European leaders, U.S. President Bill Clinton was quoted as saying that, while Russia and the United States were unlikely to resolve all their differences over the question of missile defense at the weekend’s talks, “we might make more headway than most people would expect.” Russian President Vladimir Putin, for his part, was not as suggestive. But during a visit to Yaroslavl, he said that he expected “good results” from the meeting with Clinton, results which could lead to “a weakening of confrontation and a lowering of the level of danger for the entire world.”

Speculation that Clinton and Putin might make some sort of headway on key arms control issues over the weekend was further fueled by news that Strobe Talbott, U.S. deputy secretary of state and chief U.S. arms control negotiator, had returned to Moscow for additional talks on the eve of Clinton’s arrival. In addition, Russian Defense Ministry sources were quoted yesterday as saying that U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen will now pay a visit to Moscow on June 13, just over a week after Clinton’s departure. Cohen is scheduled to meet with Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev. Their talks will reportedly include discussion of key arms control issues. Finally, those suggesting that Clinton and Putin could make some progress on arms control issues this weekend have pointed also to the fact that the two men are likely to meet at least four times this year, so that this weekend’s talks could be the start of a dialogue which will continue in their subsequent encounters.

For all of that, no one was suggesting that the weekend would yield a significant breakthrough. The two sides are, however, expected to sign accords on an early warning center and on the destruction by each country of 34 metric tons of military-grade plutonium. They are also to discuss a host of other key issues, including the Kremlin’s plans for economic reform, human rights, the war in Chechnya, and peace efforts in the Middle East and the Balkans. Given the Clinton administration’s declared intention to ensure that this first summit with Putin is a positive one, the U.S. side seems unlikely to push the issue of Chechnya too hard. Clinton, meanwhile, will on Monday become the first U.S. leader to address Russia’s State Duma, the lower house of parliament. He will reportedly focus on the importance of ensuring press freedoms. Clinton is scheduled to arrive in Moscow from Germany on Saturday, and to hold two discussion sessions with Putin on Sunday. The two men have met previously, but it will be their first face-to-face encounter since Putin took office (Reuters, May 31; Reuters, AP, UPI, Russian agencies, June 1).