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Washington Post
December 28, 2001
Bush Pledges More Aid For Russian Arms Cuts
By Mike Allen
Washington Post Staff Writer

CRAWFORD, Tex., Dec. 27 -- President Bush pledged more money today to help Russia round up and destroy nuclear and chemical weapons, abandoning the skepticism he had expressed when he ordered a review of the U.S. assistance nine months ago.

In a statement issued while vacationing at his ranch here, Bush said most of the $750 million the United States spent on 30 such programs this year appears to be worthwhile. He called for cutbacks in a few programs, such as a costly effort to dispose of excess plutonium. But he urged additional spending and accelerated efforts on others, including construction of an incinerator to destroy Russian nerve agents.

White House officials said the administration would propose an overall increase in the aid when Bush submits his budget next year, and they depicted the decision as a milestone in the increasing cooperation between the United States and Russia. "Most U.S. programs to assist Russia in threat reduction and nonproliferation work well, are focused on priority tasks and are well managed," a White House statement said.

Foreign policy specialists said the announcement reflected the warming of relations with Russia and the administration's heightened concern about the proliferation of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Lawrence J. Korb, a former assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration who is director of national security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, said the Bush administration had been "saying one thing and doing another" -- declaring support for cooperation with Russia while proposing cuts in nonproliferation assistance.

"Now, they realize these are important programs that could keep nuclear material out of the hands of terrorists," Korb said. "If these terrorists get hold of nuclear weapons, it will make September 11th look like a day at the beach."

Democrats on Capitol Hill said programs that had appeared likely to be cut under the administration's budget now appear likely to be given more money. They said the announcement was another example of Bush criticizing the policies of President Bill Clinton and then later adopting them.

"When all was said and done, they realized there were good reasons for the past policies," said a Democratic Senate aide who specializes in arms control.

Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), a leader in the 10-year-old cooperative threat reduction program, also described Bush's action as "good news."

The National Security Council began reviewing the programs in March. Bush said at a news conference at the time that it was in the nation's interest to "work with Russia to dismantle its nuclear arsenal." But he also said he had an obligation to the taxpayers "to make sure that any money that is being spent is being spent in an effective way."

Some administration officials had wanted, for example, to eliminate the Energy Department's Nuclear Cities Initiative, which aims to foster partnerships with U.S. companies and to spur investment in Russian communities long dependent on weapons factories. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, had called such a cutback "absolutely foolhardy."

In today's statement, the White House said the Nuclear Cities Initiative would be consolidated into a related program and "restructured to focus more effectively on projects to help Russia reduce its nuclear warhead complex." But it stopped short of canceling the program.

Bush also said the Pentagon would accelerate a project to build a facility at Shchuchye, in Russia's Kurgan region, to incinerate tons of deadly nerve agents. The high-tech incinerator is the first major effort by the Russians to destroy chemical stockpiles, an effort they concede is decades behind schedule.

The House Armed Services Committee had for several years held up money for the facility, arguing that Russia had not fully disclosed its chemical weapons stocks or shouldered its share of financing. But earlier this year, the House withdrew its objection. With the Senate, it approved the project under certain conditions, including contributions from other countries and certification that Russia has revealed its chemical stockpiles.

With those provisions, Congress approved $35 million this month to get the project started. Russia has allocated $50 million for infrastructure work, such as building access roads and clearing land, according to congressional sources.

The administration also said today that it wants to accelerate cooperation with Russia to install equipment at border posts to detect nuclear materials. And the White House statement called in general terms, without citing budgetary figures, for expanding Energy Department programs to improve the security of Russia's warheads and nuclear materials.

Congress had already guaranteed an increase in that funding by providing an extra $286 million for nonproliferation programs in a supplemental appropriations bill this month. Of that amount, $120 million is for programs to upgrade protection and accounting for nuclear materials across the former Soviet Union.

Bush's announcement called for the expansion of the International Science and Technology Center, a joint U.S.-Japanese-European effort to help Russian weapons scientists switch to civilian work.

But the president also called for the restructuring of some programs. The White House statement said, for example, that the State and Energy departments will "examine alternative approaches" to a joint project to dispose of 34 metric tons of excess Russian weapons-grade plutonium, "with the aim of making the program less costly and more effective."

Some administration officials had urged cancellation of the plutonium disposition project, which has faced sharply increased costs -- estimated at more than $2 billion -- and disagreements over how to render the material harmless. But today's announcement said "the administration remains committed to the agreement with Russia to dispose of excess plutonium," although it is searching for an effective way to carry it out.

Bush had hinted at the outcome of the review during a speech this month on defense policy. In that Dec. 11 address at the Citadel in South Carolina, he called Russia "a crucial partner" in the effort to keep dangerous technologies out of the hands of terrorists and said the two nations "will expand efforts to provide peaceful employment for scientists who formerly worked in Soviet weapons facilities."

Staff writer Walter Pincus contributed to this report.

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