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Work done — Russian inspectors to go home

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The treaty worked and the Russians are leaving.

In early 1988 a skeptical Congress was hesitant to ratify the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty signed in December 1987 by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, predicted then that Soviet inspectors would be trained intelligence agents while the United States would be using hired technicians. He was concerned for defense industries in the 31-mile range within which the Soviets could operate while in Utah.

A lot has changed in 13 years.

Congress approved the INF treaty in May 1988, which allowed Soviet arms inspectors to set up shop at Alliant Techsystems (formerly Hercules Aerospace) in Magna. U.S. inspectors were assigned to keep a close eye on the Russians at their arms plants, one located in Votkinsk, 600 miles east of Moscow.

The first of many Soviet inspection teams arrived in July 1988 amid national media attention. The last group will leave at the end of this month with much less fanfare, ending a long relationship that began at the end of the Cold War. The goal then — eliminate nuclear missiles in the name of world peace.

While a uniformly harmonious global setting still eludes world leaders, the United States and Russia have fulfilled the terms of the INF Treaty. Neither side, it would appear, possesses nuclear missiles or manufactures their components. INF inspectors have been stationed in California, Japan and Germany.

By May 31, the 30-member team of Russian inspectors is bound by the treaty to vacate their homes in West Jordan and their inspection portal in Magna.

"This marks the conclusion of the monitoring activities of Russian inspection teams located in my home state of Utah," Hatch said in an e-mail response. "These monitoring activities have demonstrated that the ultimate measure of any treaty is verification."

But it's not over yet.

There was yet another changeover of inspectors May 4. The maximum allowed is 30 and team members stay for four weeks until they are replaced.

They'll continue monitoring Alliant activities until the final day, but many inspectors will be replaced by Russian VIPs eager to mark the end of an era, said Amy Fielding, the Magna detachment acting public affairs officer for the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency. Most will head for home May 30.

The Russians have already asked for assistance in locating charities to accept some of what they'll leave behind.

The Boy Scouts have spoken for some items. The Utah State Historical Society may recover monitoring or domestic-related things to create an exhibition, depicting a prominent part of Utah history. Modular housing will be dismantled.

Inspectors will take some mementoes, however, including memories of their stay in Utah.

Over the years, the United States has relaxed its rules on where wave after wave of Russian inspectors could travel in this state. The original agreement was that they'd be confined to a 31-mile radius around their compound in West Jordan. Eventually, the United States allowed them full access to all national parks and points in between in Utah, while accompanied by a government escort.

Travel rules lightened up and so did feelings between the two superpowers, said Fielding.

"In general I feel there's been a change over the years where the relationship has grown more cooperative," she said. Other things remained the same.

"Their basic mission of monitoring our plant to make sure we're no longer producing Pershing missiles has not changed," Fielding said. "This treaty allowed for an invasive type of inspection." While INF inspectors were not allowed in the Magna plant, they were authorized to check every truck that passed through its gates. They were looking for Pershing motors, which helped power the missile.

"This is 13 years of cooperation between adversaries that has shown this type of thing can work," Fielding noted. An Alliant spokesman declined comment.

Here in Utah, Russian VIPs will arrive May 25. They've asked to experience cultural events that weekend, Fielding said.

The Russian flag in Magna will be permanently lowered May 28, Memorial Day. INF inspectors will sign a final monthly inspection report.

On May 29, inspectors and Russian dignitaries will gather for a ceremony at 4:30 p.m. at West Jordan's International Peace Center, located in a park at 2200 W. 7800 South. More names will be added to a plaque there that commemorates the INF treaty. Later that evening, the Russians will be treated to a banquet.

The next day, they'll leave U.S. airspace, bound for home on a Russian airline.

The end of an era.

E-MAIL: sspeckman@desnews.com