(Russian parliamentarians) (590)
The deputy chairman of the Russian parliament's Defense Committee says the
START II agreement on strategic arms reduction is "one of the highest
priority" arms control agreements to be considered for ratification by the

Speaking through an interpreter at a March 6 press conference, Alexander
Piskunov said he does not anticipate "any serious objections" to
ratification.  But he alluded to some "technical and economic problems"
associated with the Russian ratification process, also noting that the
timing of U.S. efforts to develop Ballistic Missile Defenses (BMD) could
create "some very serious problems."

Piskunov and other members of the Russian Defense Committee met for three
hours with members of the House National Security Committee.  Piskunov told
reporters later that new BMD development "would have some serious
consequences" in terms of the parliament's ratification of START II, given
the fact that both sides are talking about "partnership."

But National Security Committee Chair Floyd Spence told the visiting
delegation that "a global defense initiative" is needed to protect the
United States from "new world realities."  And committee member Duncan
Hunter recalled that the United States had experienced casualties from an
Iraqi Scud ballistic missile attack in Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert

"We are somewhat unique in that sense," he explained, "and we intend to
protect our troops in theater and we are developing a number of systems to
do that."  At the same time, Hunter noted, the United States does "not wish
to build a new ABM (Anti-Ballistic Missile) Treaty that will constrain the
development of those theater systems."

Piskunov noted that there is a sentiment in his committee that the remaining
level of weapons after implementation of START II would still be "very
high" and that prospects for ratification would be helped "immensely" if
the two sides expressed their intention to reduce "to even lower levels"
than called for under START II.  By the year 2003, both the United States
and Russia are expected to retain no more than 3,500 strategic nuclear

Piskunov contended a statement issued by both the Russian and American
presidents pledging to seek even lower levels of strategic arms "would also
help bring in other members of the nuclear club to get them to freeze and
reduce the levels of their own armaments."  Such an expression of intent,
he suggested, would be "very timely" as the deadline approaches to extend
the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) this spring.

Spence said the meeting with the Russian parliamentarians had covered a
number of subjects including NATO expansion, the conflicts in Bosnia and
Chechnya, and a discussion of U.S. objections to Russian plans to sell
civilian nuclear reactors to Iran.

Russian Defense Committee member Vladimir Avercheve contended that the
1nited States plans to sell "the same kind of light (water) reactor to a
country (North Korea) with at least the same level of unreliability as a
partner and the same level of danger as Iran."

Piskunov said members of the U.S. and Russian committees recognized that
there is an existing dichotomy between trying to manage the ABM Treaty and
dealing with the subject of theater ballistic missile systems.  There is
"nothing that guides us," he said, on the dividing line between theater and
strategic defenses.  Acknowledging the need to develop ways to protect
populations and troops from ballistic missile attacks, the official also
called for the two sides to discard "mutual suspicions."