President Bush discussed the status of a START II treaty with Russian President Boris Yeltsin Sunday and reported that while "some real progress" has been made, no agreement has yet been reached.
Speaking with reporters at the White House after a weekend of meetings with British Prime Minister John Major, Bush said he had consulted with Yeltsin in a lengthy 35-minute telephone conversation."We discussed that," Bush said when asked if the United States and Russia were ready to sign a START II treaty. "And I can tell you it's not agreed totally. We've made some real progress."
Bush's remarks came after several days of confusion for U.S. officials, who were caught off guard by Yeltsin's declaration last week during a trip to Beijing that final obstacles to the START accord had been cleared and that the treaty, which calls for deep cuts in the Russian and American arsenals, could be ready for signing early next month at a summit in Alaska.
Before Bush's talk with Yeltsin, who is facing serious political troubles at home over economic reforms, U.S. officials said the treaty may require further negotiating and that no date had been set for its signing.
Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger said Washington was awaiting information from Moscow about settling several "sticky" issues in the negotiations, including the destruction of SS-18 nuclear missile silos, and on counting bombers and missile warheads.
"We're trying to work all of those out," Eagleburger said on the NBC program, "Meet the Press."
"And if we do, why, then we'll have an agreement. But I must say, simply because we're running to the end of this administration does not mean that we're going to rush to try to get an agreement under any circumstances. We won't do that."
One official, speaking on condition of anonymity, however, predicted the outstanding issues would not block achieving a pact. "I think we'll get a START treaty," the official said, while expressing doubt any agreement would be ready for signing by Jan. 4.
Bush has expressed the hope the sweeping follow-up pact could be signed before he leaves office Jan. 20.
Officials said the Russians felt a breakthrough was achieved last Sunday during talks in Stockholm and that the only outstanding issues are technical.
At the same time, U.S. officials are increasingly concerned that the original Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty has yet to be implemented in the states of the former Soviet Union, most notably Ukraine.
Officials reported that Ukraine now appears to be holding on to some if not all of the former Soviet nuclear weapons deployed on its territory despite U.S. and allied pressure to comply with the START treaty that would commit it to non-nuclear status.
The Ukrainian Parliament last week postponed until next year a planned vote on whether to ratify the START accord.
On another topic, Bush said after his conversation with Yeltsin that he does not expect resistance from Russia to the U.S. effort in the United Nations to win a resolution to force compliance with a Bosnian "no-fly" zone. (Story on A2.)