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Arms Control, Y2K Top Cohen's Moscow Agenda

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

MOSCOW, Sept. 13, 1999 – U.S. Defense Secretary William S. Cohen and Russian defense officials are working together here to reaffirm the two nations' efforts to draw down the Soviet-era nuclear arsenal and to counter potential Year 2000 computer glitches.

Cohen departed Washington Sept. 12 for a two-day mission that included visits with former Foreign Minister Yevginiy Primakov, Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev and other Russian officials. Cohen told reporters en route he hoped to "re-energize" contacts with the Russian leaders.

Relations with Russia have been improving since the Kosovo conflict's end, Cohen said. "There was obviously a very difficult period of time we went through with the Russians following Kosovo, but since that time, we have maintained our contacts and cooperated in areas in our mutual interest."

The secretary last met with his counterpart, Sergeyev, in mid- June in Helsinki, Finland, where they worked out Russia's role in the NATO-led peacekeeping force in Kosovo. The success of the Helsinki talks and of the ongoing Kosovo mission are evidence of improved ties between the two nations, he said.

Russian participation in the Kosovo mission is going very well, according to Cohen. He has received "very good reports about the caliber of the Russian peacekeeping force, their leadership and how they're operating very effectively with American troops in the U.S. sector."

In Helsinki, Cohen and Sergeyev spoke of the need to meet again to discuss other mutual concerns, such as ratification of START II, START III, and the need to discuss a national missile defense architecture. Cohen said he planned on this trip to emphasize to Russian parliament members the importance of ratifying START II.

"We really can't go forward in a substantive fashion on START III until there is a ratification of START II, which is in Russia's interest, and it's in our interest," he said.

START II limits each nation's strategic nuclear arsenal to between 3,000 and 3,500 warheads. START III proposes a limit of 2,000 to 2,500 and possibly may go even lower. Congress ratified START II, but Russia's parliament has not. While U.S. and Russian officials have engaged only in preliminary talks on START III; negotiations will not begin until START II is ratified.

Cohen also planned to discuss the emerging threat of long-range missile attacks posed by rogue states. He said he would stress the need to modify the Antiballistic Missile Treaty to allow for the deployment of a limited national missile defense system should President Clinton make the decision to deploy one.

The United States could structure a limited defensive system that would not undercut Russia's deterrent capability, Cohen said. As new threats emerge, the system could then be modified to protect all 50 states against a limited attack from North Korea, Iraq, Iran or any other rogue state.

Y2K cooperation was also high on Cohen's trip agenda. He and Sergeyev were slated to sign an agreement establishing a joint Center for Y2K Strategic Stability at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. From late December through early January, Russian and American military personnel are to monitor potential early warning launch detection data provided by the United States, a senior U.S. defense official said.

Following meetings in Moscow, Cohen was slated to travel north to a shipyard in the town of Severodvinsk to witness the destruction of a Soviet-era submarine. Under the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, the United States has helped Russia dismantle some of its ballistic missile submarines as the boats have been phased out.

The secretary was also scheduled to visit a nearby submarine construction facility where the United States will soon begin helping the Russians dismantle Typhoon-class strategic ballistic missile submarines. Typhoons, the most modern Russian submarines, have had the shortest service life, the U.S. official noted.

Since 1992, Congress has appropriated more than $1.7 billion to help Russia reduce Soviet-legacy nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. More than $2 billion is slated for the threat reduction program over the next five years, the official said.

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