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If The Ex Soviets Want Aid, `They'd Better Play Ball On Nukes'

International Outlook


Like children squabbling over an inheritance, Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus have been bickering for months over who gets the former Soviet Union's nuclear arsenal. The fearsome shadow that Mother Russia casts over the weaker states is making them reluctant to stick to earlier agreements to dispose of their weapons.

The Bush Administration is trying to craft a new deal, but concern is mounting. The stalemate could undermine U.S. support for technical and financial help. Some senators are already pushing to link arms control and aid. "If they want aid and access to the World Bank and International Monetary Fund," warns a Senate Foreign Relations Committee source, "they'd better play ball on nukes."

Failure to resolve the nuclear status of the new states could derail ratification this year of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which the U.S. and the Soviet Union signed last July. Experts say it's important to follow through on the treaty and extend it to the smaller states. Otherwise, there will be no framework for disposing of warheads, which could fall into renegade hands.

WAVERING. Worried about future Russian domination, the smaller states are already playing a dangerous game of using their weapons as bargaining chips. Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who will visit Washington on May 19, wants his country to be designated a "temporary" nuclear power--that would hold on to its weapons until 1999. And Ukraine wants security guarantees from Washington against possible attacks from Russia. All three states have pledged to turn over their tactical weapons to Russia for disposal, but together they retain about 350 long-range ICBMs.

Washington prefers to deal with Russia as the Soviet successor. But the latest U.S. proposal aims to soothe the fears of the three weaker nuclear republics by letting them join Russia in signing START--if, in exchange, they agree to eliminate all weapons on their soil at once. While all four republics initially agreed, U.S. officials say, they are now wavering.

The Administration's patience is wearing thin. Given the tight congressional calendar, the President must send START to the Senate by early summer for the treaty to be ratified before the election. But Republican senators are warning the White House that the Senate will not consider ratification without a new protocol that commits the smaller states to junking their nuclear weapons.

BIG HINT. The U.S. has political and economic leverage to push the new states to accept a deal. For starters, a rift with Washington would reflect badly at home on the leaders of the four republics, says one Administration official, because they "have put a high premium on demonstrating that they can manage the relationship with the U.S. and get things out of it." While U.S. policymakers don't make disarmament an explicit condition of economic and technical aid, they're counting on Ukraine and Kazakhstan to take the hint.

The Administration's marked pro-Russia tilt may have encouraged smaller states to retain their nukes to make the world take them seriously. Belatedly, the U.S. is starting to court them--emphasizing potential economic ties. Like it or not, the U.S. has an enormous stake in seeing that smaller states eliminate their weapons. "If they hold out, it would undercut our nonproliferation efforts everywhere," says Jack Mendelsohn, deputy director of the Arms Control Assn. That scary prospect would make the quarreling among the former Soviet republics look like child's play.Amy Borrus in Washington, with Roma Ihnatowycz in Kiev, Deborah Stead in Moscow, and Bill Javetski in Paris EDITED BY STANLEY REED

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