DATE=5/24/2000 TYPE=BACKGROUND REPORT TITLE=RUSSIA / U-S NUCLEAR NUMBER=5-46369 BYLINE=PETER HEINLEIN DATELINE=MOSCOW CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: U-S Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott sounded an optimistic note as he sat down in Moscow for difficult arms control talks ahead of next month's U-S/Russia summit. But as V-O-A's Peter Heinlein reports from Moscow, the stakes are high and the chances for success seem limited. TEXT: As he began negotiations with his Russian counterpart, U-S Deputy Secretary of State Talbott acknowledged that the differences facing them will be tough to overcome. But he told reporters he is encouraged at seeing a little progress in each session of talks. The two countries have sharply different interests on arms control issues. The United States wants to amend the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty to allow construction of a limited missile defense system. The proposal has broad bipartisan support in the U-S Congress. Russia, on the other hand, wants to negotiate a START- Three treaty (EDS: Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) that would further limit each nation's nuclear arsenal to about 15-hundred warheads. Russian strategists say the cuts would enable Moscow to maintain nuclear parity at a time of limited defense budgets. But in both countries, there is stiff opposition within the military establishments to making any concessions. Russian generals fiercely oppose amending the A-B-M Treaty, saying it would undermine the entire premise of arms control and lead to a new nuclear arms race. For its part, the U-S military Joint Chiefs of Staff argue that Russia's START-Three proposal would cut too deeply into the U-S nuclear deterrent. With such formidable opposition, and the wide gap in interests, most observers agree it will be impossible to reach a breakthrough arms deal before President Clinton comes to Moscow next month to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin. But analyst Alexander Pikayev says the outlines of a framework agreement are coming into focus. /// PIKAYEV ACT ONE /// What is possible is that they could reach an agreement, a general agreement that they could sign by the end of the year, so they would determine the basic parameters of START-Three, which could be negotiated for several more months and signed before President Clinton leaves office. And also they could start consultations on A-B-M Treaty modifications, what would be, I believe, the major political achievement of the Clinton administration during this Moscow summit. /// END ACT /// Mr. Pikayev sees these arms control talks, with a new president in the Kremlin, as a golden opportunity for the Clinton administration to boost pro-western forces within Vladimir Putin's inner circle. /// PIKAYEV ACT TWO /// In Russia, we have a very fragile balance between anti-westerners and pro-westerners inside the Putin administration. And given that fragile balance, what could be important is the American position. If the Clinton Administration -- Madeline Albright, Strobe Talbott -- could be able to convince Russia to make a good deal, that the U-S is really ready to offer a good compromise, a good way out, it could decisively affect the balance of power in Russia, so what we see now is a struggle for the mind and heart of Vladimir Putin. /// END ACT /// But Mr. Pikayev admits the Clinton Administration strategy could backfire if Kremlin hard-liners prevail. That could leave the United States with no choice but to withdraw unilaterally from the A-B-M treaty, giving Russia a pretext to pull out of other agreements. Moreover, it would allow the Kremlin to capitalize on differences between the United States and its allies over the wisdom of abandoning the A-B-M Treaty. The director of the Moscow Carnegie Center, Alan Rousso, says the Clinton administration is making a dangerous gamble that could end in a huge propaganda victory for the Kremlin. He says it would be best to take the entire arms control issue off the summit agenda. /// ROUSSO ACT ONE /// It's too late unfortunately to cancel the summit. If they could have seen this coming, they would have been wise never to have scheduled it in the first place, because it's too risky. But we've crossed that threshold. It's too late to turn back, so the summit will go on. So they have no choice but to lower expectations and hope they aren't bloodied too badly by Republican criticism that this was a meaningless summit, that the U-S didn't get anything from it and so forth. /// END ACT /// Mr. Rousso predicts the Clinton-Putin meeting will be what he calls "a feel-good summit," where the difficult issues such as press freedom and Russia's commitment to an open society are left off the agenda or downplayed. He says Mr. Clinton's goal is to put U-S/Russia relations on the right track for the upcoming U-S political season. /// ROUSSO ACT TWO /// I think they want to send a positive message back home for domestic political reasons, if for no other reason than that the Clinton-Gore strategy has been a success. And they're going to try to bask in that light for a while, and hope it rubs off on voters and demonstrates the effectiveness of the Clinton-Gore strategy on Russia. /// END ACT /// A senior U-S official says behind-the-scenes arms control talks will continue right up to the summit and beyond. President Clinton is due to arrive in Moscow June 3rd for a three-day visit. It will be the first meeting between the two leaders since Mr. Putin took over the top Kremlin job last New Year's Eve, when former President Boris Yeltsin suddenly stepped down. (Signed) NEB/PFH/JWH/JP 24-May-2000 14:46 PM EDT (24-May-2000 1846 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .