The United States and the Soviet Union announced Friday an agreement to increase superpower military exchanges next year in a continuing push to bolster understanding between their armed forces.
The announcement from Soviet Defense Minister Dmitri Yazov and U.S. Defense Secretary Dick Cheney was made at a news conference ending Yazov's six-day visit to the United States. Cheney accepted an invitation to Moscow but set no date.At the same time, however, the first Soviet defense chief ever to visit the United States told reporters his country's defenses were already capable of shooting down the new B-2 Stealth bomber, now being tested in California.
"We hope that you would not use these planes to attack the Soviet Union, so that we would not be forced to bring them down," he said with a small smile in response to questions.
Pressed on how much of a threat the new $530 million radar-evading aircraft might present to Moscow and whether the Soviet Union would have to spend billions to upgrade its air defenses as the Pentagon has said, Yazov shot back:
"We don't have to modify the Soviet air defense system. Soviet air defenses have the ability today to bring down any air threat."
Yazov saw several U.S. bases during his six-day visit to the United States but was not taken to Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., to look at the bat-wing B-2.
The visit by Yazov, who held talks with President Bush and other senior officials this week, was the latest in a series of high-level military exchanges between the two countries.
"I believe exchanges like these between both of our sides contribute to building up our mutual understanding, and we agreed with Cheney that an additional plan of mutual exchanges would be drawn up for 1990," he said.
"Those exchanges would allow more and more representatives of our two militaries involved in the process of meeting with each other," added Yazov. But he did not give specifics.
The 65-year-old general, dressed in an olive brown uniform with 10 rows of military ribbons, stressed that "the atmosphere of trust" growing between the superpowers should be at the forefront, not bombers.
Congress is now battling over whether to provide funds for the Pentagon's plan to build 132 of the new bombers, which some critics say might not be able to penetrate Soviet air space and might not be needed in view of growing detente between the superpowers.
"It is with great pleasure that we are extending our invitation to the secretary of defense of the United States to go on a visit to the Soviet Union at an acceptable time. We have a good saying in the Soviet Union: a debt is to be repaid," Yazov said.