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WE’RE NO LONGER DEVELOPING CHEMICAL ARMS, RUSSIA SAYS

SHARE WE’RE NO LONGER DEVELOPING CHEMICAL ARMS, RUSSIA SAYS

Russia has assured the United States it is no longer developing chemical weapons, and the administration expects this issue will soon be resolved, Secretary of State Warren Christopher said Friday.

In an interview with Cable News Network, he said the assurances were given to Vice President Al Gore by Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin who visited Washington this week."Prime Minister Chernomyrdin assured us there was no chemical weapons development going on in Russia," Christopher said. "I think we'll resolve this problem in short order."

The CNN interviewer did not probe the issue further.

It was unclear how Christopher could be so certain about the matter. On Thursday, CIA Director James Woolsey told Congress there was "growing evidence that Russia has continued elements of an offensive (chemical weapons) program."

Woolsey cited recent comments by Russian scientist Vil Mir-za-ya-nov that Moscow was continuing to develop chemical agents and binary weapons.

Also Thursday, State Department spokesman Mike McCurry said Moscow had failed to fulfill a promise to disclose full details of its chemical weapons program.

He said U.S. officials were still analyzing chemical weapons data shared with Russia under a joint exchange, but are concerned "about what appear to be omissions and inconsistencies in that data."

"We have long known and believed that the Soviets . . . had developed binary chemical agents . . . The data we have received from Russia makes no reference to binary chemical weapons or agents," McCurry told a news briefing.

"That is contrary to our understanding of the program that was initiated by the former Soviet Union. So, we are now requesting consultations with the Russian Federation, consistent with the memorandum of understanding, so that we can pursue the question further."

Binary weapons are an advanced munition in which two chemical agents are stored separately, then mixed when needed to produce a deadly type of poison gas.

In January 1993, the Chemical Weapons Convention, which is aimed at banning such weapons, was concluded under President George Bush. It has been signed by 157 nations, but only eight have ratified it.

The U.S. Senate is now considering the treaty, and Christopher during the CNN interview urged its ratification.

Suspicions about Russia's poison gas program and its difficulties in devising an effective plan to destroy its stocks have become an important issue in Senate debate on the treaty.