U.S WARNS RUSSIA OF NEED TO VERIFY TREATY COMPLIANCE 



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Last Updated

26 Dec 2002

Source: New York Times, April 8, 2002.

U.S. Warns Russia of Need to Verify Treaty Compliance

By JUDITH MILLER

The Bush administration has informed Moscow that Washington is curtailing many new disarmament projects because of concern about Russia's compliance with treaties banning chemical and biological weapons, according to senior administration officials.

Some existing projects will also lose additional money, they said.

American law requires that the government decide each year whether Russia is "committed" to complying with its treaty undertakings. In a cable sent last week, the State Department said the United States had not been able to certify that commitment and, therefore, the administration would be unable to start new initiatives or provide new financing for programs to reduce the threat posed by each side's nuclear, biological and chemical arms.

The decision to send the cable is seen as a victory for skeptics of Russia within the White House. Critics had been pushing for months for a tougher stand toward Russia on weapons of destruction and its compliance with arms control treaties, even though the administration has concluded that the programs benefit American national security.

The cable, coming a month before President Bush is to meet the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, in Moscow, does not accuse Russia of violating the germ and chemical weapons treaties. Nor has the administration absolutely ruled out a certification in the future.

But the decision puts Moscow on notice that Washington insists on more cooperation and candor with respect to weapons of mass destruction. "This is a signal of our seriousness about compliance on arms control and the need to meet all obligations under the chemical and biological weapons conventions," a senior administration official said.

But several arms control advocates called the action disturbing. "It's in our country's interest to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction from leaking out of Russia in any way we can," said Rose Gottemoeller, a former assistant secretary of energy for nonproliferation under President Bill Clinton and now a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "So undercutting these programs is tantamount to shooting yourself in the foot."

The decision to send the cable was prompted by American concern over a range of actions by Moscow, including its recent refusal to share a bio-engineered strain of anthrax developed by Russia's scientists, despite repeated promises to do so. Officials said Russia had also declined to provide a complete history of the decades of secret work on biological and chemical weapons.

The lack of certification affects a range of disarmament activities -- from military exchanges to American help in stopping the theft of Russian nuclear warheads. Such projects account for about $370 million in programs carried out under the Cooperative Threat Reduction Act, an effort started in 1991 on Capitol Hill that has enjoyed strong support from Congress and the Clinton administration, and record budget requests from Mr. Bush.

Officials said the bulk of the $1.3 billion in projects intended to reduce the threat of unconventional weapons would not be affected by the lack of certification. For example, the $500 million in disarmament projects supervised by the Department of Energy do not require the certification.

But the approximately $450 million in programs managed by the Defense Department and the $70 million run by the State Department will probably be affected, officials said.

Several scheduled visits to discuss new projects have been canceled, officials said. In addition, several State Department projects would soon run short of cash, they said.

The threat reduction program has helped countries in the former Soviet bloc destroy nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and associated infrastructure, and stop the theft or spread of such weapons.

In exchange for American aid and scientific cooperation, the law requires that the administration certify that Russia is "committed" to complying with the treaties it has signed banning and restricting such weapons. While several similar programs permit the president to waive the certification requirement if the program is deemed vital to national security, the law authorizing Cooperative Threat Reduction projects contains no such waiver.

The Clinton administration issued the certification each year and most recently in January 2001. But the Bush administration did not issue the certification when it was due this January. "There was an election," one official said, noting that this administration took a different approach toward treaty commitments.

In March, Mr. Bush's top aides and cabinet members decided to ask Congress to give the administration the authority to waive the certification requirement. The administration has included the request for such authority in the emergency supplemental spending bills for the State Department it sent to Capitol Hill.

Those officials also recommended that the administration inform Russia that it had not issued the certification and, therefore, that there would be no new Cooperation Threat Reduction projects. Nor would existing programs be extended beyond their current level of financing.

House and Senate aides said in interviews last week that while it was likely that Congress would grant the waiver authority, it was unlikely to do so before Mr. Bush travels to Russia to meet with Mr. Putin.

Hard-liners in the administration have grown increasingly disturbed by Russian actions with respect to its chemical and biological weapons treaty commitments. Though the United States has approved plans to help Russia destroy vast stocks of chemical weapons, officials noted, Moscow has yet to acknowledge that it made in Soviet times "fourth generation" chemical weapons agents, which are many times more lethal than the most advanced nerve agents the United States produced.

Concerns about the Soviet offensive biological weapons activities and Russia's ostensibly defensive program are also increasing, several officials agreed. In light of recent accounts from Soviet defectors from the germ weapons program, one official said, it was absurd that Russia continued denying that the Soviet Union had developed and turned pathogens, some of them genetically manipulated to resist antibiotics and vaccines, into terrifying weapons.

Moreover, while Western scientists have been able to visit several former Soviet facilities where such weapons were made, Russia has not given any foreigners access to the four biological laboratories that have been controlled by the military. Russia maintains that it is not violating the biological or chemical warfare conventions, and argues that American military labs are not open either.

Administration officials had hoped that the situation would improve after Mr. Bush and Mr. Putin announced at a summit in October that they would expand cooperation against bioterrorism.

But two days before Mr. Putin's arrival for the summit, officials said, Washington was notified that Russia's Export Control Commission had refused to let Russian scientists share with the United States a genetically modified strain of anthrax that its scientists said seemed to defeat Russia's anthrax vaccine -- at least in hamsters.

Under a scientific strain exchange agreement concluded during the Clinton administration, Russia was supposed to provide a sample of the strain. Since then, Russia's deputy prime minister has reaffirmed the commission's decision not to share the strain, American officials said.

"Russia's actions, like its declarations about what was done in Soviet times, the lack of transparency in its ostensibly defensive programs, and its refusal to share the strain, among other things, raise serious questions about Russia's willingness to abide by its treaty obligations," one official said.

"What we're trying to do," one senior official said, "is send a signal that we require full compliance with the chemical and biological weapons conventions."

"But we've also made clear in the review of our assistance programs to Russia and the record size of our budget requests that these programs are very much in our own national security interests," the official said. "We're trying to find a way to bring these two goals together."