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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

29 April 2002

Defense Official Says U.S.-Russia Arms Pact Still Possible

(April 29: Senior defense official briefs en route to Moscow) (1250)
It's still "a possibility" that a legally binding strategic arms
agreement will be ready for President Bush and Russian President
Vladimir Putin to sign at their May summit, a senior defense official
told journalists during a background briefing on the U.S. defense
secretary's plane en route to Moscow April 29.
"We've started the [arms] reductions; they're continuing their
reductions, and whether or not we have the details worked out in this
agreement, in this timeframe, is not necessarily going to be a
make-or-break issue for the summit," the official said.
The United States wants an agreement that "provides the flexibility
that we think is necessary in the uncertain security environment we
are in today," the official said.
In his meeting in Moscow with Russian Minister of Defense Sergei
Ivanov, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is expected to discuss a
broad range of issues, including Afghanistan, his just-completed trip
to Central Asia, and strategic arms issues.
Following is the Defense Department transcript of the briefing:
(begin transcript)
United States Department of Defense
News Transcript
Monday, April 29, 2002
(Background briefing en route from Astana, Kazakhstan to Moscow,
Senior Defense Official: We are going into Moscow and Secretary
Rumsfeld will be meeting with his counterpart, Minister of Defense
Sergei Ivanov.
I think it's important to understand the context of the meeting. There
have been a long series of meetings beginning back in the fall in
which a broad range of issues have been discussed. I expect this
meeting will also touch on a broad range of issues.
But what's somewhat different is that it's also -- we're in the run-up
now to the summit that will be coming with Russia at the middle to end
of May. So there will be issues I think that will be discussed as part
of the ongoing consultations between the ministers of defense. In
particular, I am certain that the secretary will want to talk a little
bit about Afghanistan, a little bit about his trip to Central Asia,
and those sorts of issues. But we will also be talking about strategic
arms issues and in particular, continuing the work that has been going
on in both the defense channel and in the State Department channel on
crafting a legally binding strategic arms agreement that might be
ready for the presidents to sign in May.
Q: Is that still a real possibility or has it become pretty clear that
it is not going to be ready by May? I get the impression that -- don't
expect it now.
Senior Defense Official: I don't think that. I think it is still a
possibility. But I think that in some senses, both sides are pretty
relaxed about the fact that we are taking the reductions. We've
started the reductions; they're continuing their reductions, and
whether or not we have the details worked out in this agreement, in
this timeframe, is not necessarily going to be a make-or-break issue
for the summit.
Q: Will Under Secretary Bolton and the SecDef carry any new proposals
in? You know, propose any changes or --
Senior Defense Official: I think at this point they're going to be
exploring different alternatives for how to -- maybe they will be
looking at the language of such an agreement, exploring different
alternative formulations that might meet both their needs and our
needs. So I wouldn't necessarily say "new proposals," but I think
there is certainly going to be a lot of give and take.
Q: Is it the intention of the Pentagon to store some of the weapons
that are going to be discarded? Is that still a major sticking point
for the Russians?
Senior Defense Official: I think that the Russians understand that
that's a factor of what we're going to do and in fact, that's sort of
a fact. It's a fact of life given the fact that...
Sometimes we've said, some of the warheads we are going be destroying;
some of the warheads we're going to be keeping, but given the state of
our own nuclear complex right now, it's going to take a long time
before we're even in a position to be able to begin to destroy some of
those warheads. I think the Russians understand that. They also
understand that they've got a lot of weapons in storage as well. So I
wouldn't regard that as a major sticking point at this point.
Q: Could you remind us what is the pressure behind it, why the need?
If you have, let's say, 2,000 warheads, why do you need to keep more?
Senior Defense Official: What the Nuclear Posture Review stated was
that the United States needed the ability to respond to changes in the
security environment that might be unforeseen. This is particularly
true given the fact that under present circumstances, our nuclear
weapons complex is not in a position to respond well to those changes
by producing new weapons or producing new warheads that might go on
existing systems. So we felt that it was prudent to hang onto a
portion of those systems and give us the flexibility to respond to
those changes, if necessary, as we draw down the operationally
deployed force. It has really been the focus of arms control for the
last 20 or 30 years -- those weapons that are actually on top of
existing missiles and that are available for use on bomber weapons or
in bomber forces.
Q: None of the previous arms control agreements actually required the
destruction of warheads, did they?
Senior Defense Official: No.
Q: Did any of them?
Senior Defense Official: No.
Q: What is the point of having these talks and coming up with some
sort of formal agreement when we've made it clear that we're just
going to do whatever we want to do regardless of what the Russians
claim -- that we need a deal?
Senior Defense Official: I think that the Russians in particular feel
that it is important to have something, a legally binding agreement
that will go beyond the lives -- not the lives, but the terms -- of
the two presidents. So what we're trying to is to work with them and
fashion an arrangement that satisfies that requirement but at the same
time provides the flexibility that we think is necessary in the
uncertain security environment we are in today.
Q: So isn't this really just a public relations effort to help Putin
back home? Is that really what this is all about?
Senior Defense Official: I wouldn't call it a public relations effort.
I think one of the things the president believes is that President
Putin has made a sort of strategic decision to move toward the West,
and that it's important that we attempt to sort of reinforce that in
ways that strengthen him, and this is one of a number of elements.
Again, I don't want to blow arms control out of proportion in terms of
the importance in our relationship, but a lot of other factors --
economic factors and things that are very important, military
cooperation in the war on terrorism -- that I think are equally, if
not more important in this. This is one of a number of factors that we
think would help support his move and continued movement toward the
Thank you.
(end transcript)
(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S.
Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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