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Neverov: US Proposals on ABM Defense Incomplete and Insufficient

02.06.2008 13:31

Interview of I.S. Neverov, Director, the RF MFA Department of North America, on Russian-American relations published in newspaper NG-Dipkurier.

- To what extent does the term “strategic partnership” reflect the current state of the Russian-American relationship that exhibits, as we know, serious contradictions?

The Russia-US relationship is a dynamic process. Respectively, the term “strategic partnership” itself as applicable to this relationship cannot be a static notion. It is legal to say that building the strategic partnership is in progress. No doubt that the Russia-US relationship is of a strategic nature. It is not reduced to purely bilateral ties but cover practically all problems of international relations and strategic security. It is noteworthy that during the period of “parallel” presidencies of Vladimir Putin and George Bush the relations of strategic partnership significantly developed.

I think that this notion should be supplemented with terms describing its content. I have already told about the strategic nature. As for the partnership, we understand it as equal cooperation basing on certain principles of relationships. They include first of all predictability, transparency, surprise-avoidance and respect of mutual interests. The relations become really partnership-like provided these principles are observed.

We try to observe the aforesaid principles when maintaining the relations with the USA practically in all spheres. The partnership between Russia and the USA is effective in such spheres as addressing new threats and challenges, nonproliferation, conflict resolution. These spheres exemplify real partnership cooperation between the two nations. At the same time we have to recognize the fact that our relations feature not only cooperation but also contradictions. Our relationship is a sophisticated and complex phenomenon relating to many difficult world problems. We have to work jointly on these relations in order to find joint responses to new emerging challenges. And when we succeed in reaching a consensus with the United States it becomes a weighty contribution to achievement of multilateral accord.

I would like to refer to the US-Russia Strategic Framework Declaration adopted at the Sochi summit on April 6. Its preamble reads that “we are dedicated to moving the US-Russia relationship from one of strategic competition to strategic partnership. We intend to cooperate as partners to promote security and stability in the world”. This Declaration summarizes the results of cooperation between Russia and the USA during the presidencies of Vladimir Putin and George Bush. The document contains a fair and unembellished assessment of our relationship at this stage. It reflects the areas of cooperation but at the same time indicates the spheres where our approaches are absolutely different.

- The Russian-American Summit in Sochi gave the expectancy of several new agreements. First of all, it relates of a new strategic arms reduction treaty in continuation of the expiring START (START-1). Is it possible to complete the work on it by the end of 2009 when the actual START expires? May the presence of a new master in the White House by that time hamper this process?

The Sochi summit discussed security issues including those relating to the START and American ABM defense. The security issues in general are included in the agenda of our work with the USA on a priority basis. It follows from the logic of our relationship and is preconditioned by objective reasons. Our key task is to prevent disrupting the strategic balance. We proceed from the premise that it may be affected by many factors. They include the US plans to deploy a global ABM system and expected expiration of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START).

These subjects are on the agenda of our dialogue with the United States. There are several mechanisms of its conduct but the subject is so serious that it is discussed at the top level. As for the START, its replacement with a new treaty was discussed at the US-Russia summit in early July last year in Kennebunkport and at the last Sochi summit. We hold consultations on the expert level. We have a common understanding that we need to take everything useful from the START. Now the parties are to decide what in fact is still useful and should remain effective.

We have a definite stand at these talks. We believe that many elements of the Treaty are urgent and useful, and will remain such in future. For example, let me refer to restrictions on nuclear delivery vehicles and strategic offensive arms deployment outside the national territory, as well as to confidence-building, transparency and verification measures. In short, experts are to determine what should be taken from the expiring Treaty.

As for the Washington approach, I would say that it is rather simplistic. Our American partners propose to focus on the transparency and confidence-building measures. They say that the new agreements should base on the approaches of the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (Moscow Treaty) of 2002.

Speaking about the Moscow Treaty one should bear in mind that it will expire in 2012. In so doing, the radical strategic offensive reductions stipulated in the Treaty should be accomplished by this deadline. Therefore there is no need to rush. At the same time, when the Moscow Treaty of 1992 was concluded it conceptually based on the fact that certain START restrictions are effective.

As of today the stands of the parties are different. We say that there is no need to have agreements strictly for the sake of the agreement; we need qualitative agreements, which would actually contribute to further strengthening of strategic stability. It is especially important taking into account the impact that the global US ABM system deployment in Europe will have on the strategic balance.

May the election of a new American president in January hamper the conclusion of the treaty? In my opinion, a pause in the talks is quite probable. Our experience shows that practically always any new American Administration as soon as it comes in takes a pause to make a strategic overview. Therefore we are ready to work hard and quickly on the new treaty just now, but let me say again: the most important is a meaningful “content”.

In general, we believe that the consultations on a new START are important to both sides. Our partners understand it too. We hope that regardless any internal political changes in the USA we will manage to reach new agreements before the START expires, i.e. before the end of 2009.

- Former US Ambassador to Moscow William Burns said to our newspaper that an agreement between Moscow and Washington on the ABM problem is possible. What is your forecast?

The ABM issue is actually a complicated problem in our relations. Or as they say, a topical issue, which need intensive consultations. And these consultations are in progress. Today it is difficult to predict if an agreement between Russian and the USA on this issue is possible or not. Our proposals to create a joint defense system against possible missile threats and a joint monitoring system are well-known. Its main distinguishing feature is that from the very beginning everything should be done jointly: from analysis of treats and elaboration of an adequate response to them up to joint decision-making. These proposals were put forward by Vladimir Putin at the meetings with George Bush in Heiligendamm and later in Kennebunkport. They remain valid, and are actually regarded as an alternative to the US plans to deploy strategic ABM systems in the Czech Republic and Poland.

Our American colleagues are inclined to interpret the results of the discussion on this issue in Sochi, reflected in the Joint Declaration, as a Russia’s consent to the ABM plans. However, it is incorrect and illusory interpretation. In fact, the Sochi Declaration expressly and precisely declares Russia’s non-consent to the American plans to deploy the ABM systems in Czechia and Poland, and asserts that Russia has an alternative proposal.

The Unites States proposed the measures, which, in its opinion, will enable us to be convinced that the to-be-deployed American ABM system in Europe is not targeted at Russia. Let me emphasize that it was an initiative of the American side. The Americans themselves proposed these measures thus recognizing that our concerns over the third ABM deployment area are justified. These measures are under discussion, however it is still not clear what has been proposed not principally but specifically. Respectively it is not clear how to reach an agreement on this basis.

We believe that the measures of this type should be agreed with us and should not be reduced to the proposals put forward by the American party. It is quite possible that we may have similar ideas too. Moreover, certain proposals that have been already openly discussed in public , for example, those relating to the permanent presence of our officers at the American facilities in Czechia and Poland, today are being corrupted to a certain extent. Initially the American party proposed “the presence” but now it says that we have to agree it upon additionally with the Polish and Czech sides, which have a different opinion with this respect.

Our party repeatedly emphasized that the permanent presence of our observers at these facilities is necessary because it will actually enable us to be convinced that they are not used against Russia. So far, the US proposals in the form as they were aired are incomplete and insufficient, i.e. fail to meet our criteria. It became apparent also at the latest round of the consultations in Oslo the week before last. The Russian delegation was led by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Kislyak, and the American delegation – by Under Secretary of State John Rood. Our party asked many questions on the American proposals, however detailed and meaningful answers are still pending.

- At least three last US presidents promised to cancel the Jackson-Venik amendment and grant a preferential trade partner status to Russia, but they failed to do it. Are there prospects of its cancellation in the nearest future?

Of course, it is important to get this amendment completely, finally and unconditionally cancelled, and receive a preferential trade partner status. It would give a positive signal to the business community. This issue is important in general in substance. Provided this amendment is effective, the American business community will fail to take advantages of this step to the full after our entry into the WTO. A judicial and practical collision will occur.

The Jackson-Venik amendment is a true survival of times past. Its originators themselves recognize it. At the same time we see almost instinctive striving to keep it effective. This striving is not of the Administration but of certain political forces including those on the Capitol Hill. Just in case, for trade-off. Cancellation of the Jackson-Venik amendment already has been linked with lots of various issues including even with chicken legs, but not with the issue, which has caused its adoption. Today, when we expect free travel with Israel in the near future, the text of the amendment looks like an absurd.

However, we actually hope that there are prospects of Jackson-Venik amendment cancellation, and the US Administration will work on this issue with the Congress before expiration of the presidential term. In so doing, we expect that the American business community is interested in normal trade relations with Russia and will support this demand.

- What do you assess the state of US-Russia cooperation on the problems of the Middle East, Iran, Afghanistan and North Korea?

There are many positive results in this area. For example, I would mention our joint work within the available framework on resolution of the Middle-East conflict, reconciliation in Afghanistan and solution of the North Korea nuclear program problem. No matter how difficult these problems are, the progress is on hand when we closely cooperate. We actively cooperate also on the Iranian nuclear problem. Here both parities agree that this problem needs a diplomatic solution. We are not on the same frequency on the tactics but it is important that we cooperate with the USA in the six-party format.

As for Russia, it tries to play a constructive role in the diplomatic settlement and makes efforts to elaborate balanced and weighted decisions, which would promote the diplomatic solution.

The Sochi Declaration positively appraised the Moscow’s decision to supply nuclear fuel to the atomic power plant in Bushehr and ensure the return of the spent fuel. It enables Iran to possess civil nuclear power capabilities without the need to build its own uranium enrichment facilities.

I would also mention the importance of our cooperation in the war on terror. You know that already for many years we have a joint Russian-American Working Group on Combating Terrorism, which unfortunately had no meetings for some time due to various reasons. It is a unique mechanism uniting representatives of all agencies of both sides involved in combating the terror. A new meeting of this group will be held next month in Moscow.

And surely an explicit example of joint Russia-US leadership in solution of acute contemporary problems is the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terror launched by Presidents Putin and Bush in 2006. Since that year it after our entry into the WTO has grown to global scales. Under the actual Russian-American co-chairmanship the Initiative now unites 70 nations in implementation of practical program of work aimed at strengthening of individual and collective capabilities in prevention of terrorist access to nuclear materials. It is a good model of correct cooperation when the parties have a common view not only on goals and tasks but also on practical steps.