Saying the likelihood of a June summit is diminishing, Secretary of State James Baker is making a last-ditch effort with Soviet Foreign Minister Alexander Bessmertnykh to conclude a new missile-reduction treaty that has eluded negotiators for nearly a decade.
Pesky technical issues stood in the way, but Baker said Friday he and Bessmertnykh would grapple with them rather than "kicking them over to follow-on negotiations."The treaty, the first ever to sharply reduce stockpiles of the deadliest long-range nuclear missiles, is the projected centerpiece for a summit meeting in Moscow between President Bush and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.
Last week, White House officials were spreading the word the talks might be held in late June. But Baker all but scotched that possibility.
"That is going to be a difficult time-frame to try and meet," he said at a news conference before flying to Geneva to meet with Bessmertnykh at the Soviet mission.
The most stubborn issues still on the table concern the number of warheads certain missiles could carry and how much flight-test information will be exchanged.
When negotiators faced such stumbling blocks in the past, they simply postponed a decision and left the issues out of the treaties.
"I suppose it could happen again," Baker said. However, he told reporters: "That is not our present intention."
While the issues are technical, they have stirred internal debate in Washington and in Moscow. Some Soviet military leaders have tried to restrain Gorbachev from making compromises.
Baker acknowledged there had been some differences among Bush's key aides but denied that the disagreements had delayed completion of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.