Baker, Soviets to Work Overtime on Arms Treaty
Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze said Friday that he and Secretary of State James A. Baker III “accomplished a lot” toward wrapping up the main points of a strategic arms control agreement, but U.S. officials cautioned that the work was not yet complete.
Baker and Shevardnadze agreed to meet again today to attempt to complete a draft agreement to be submitted to President Bush and Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev at their summit meeting in Washington starting May 30. When Baker arrived here this week, he assumed that the talks would end Friday.
A senior State Department official said it was possible, although not likely, that the negotiations could run on until Sunday.
“We’re obviously working intensively, but I can’t tell you that we are there yet,” another senior official said. “I’m not just talking about dotting i’s and crossing t’s. On all of the big issues that we came to resolve, we don’t have agreement.”
Baker and Shevardnadze both expressed optimism after about five hours of meetings with Gorbachev in the Kremlin. For about three hours of that time, the talks were limited to the Soviet president and the two foreign ministers, aided only by interpreters and official note-takers. Other aides joined the meeting for about two hours.
After their meeting with Gorbachev, Baker and Shevardnadze talked for three more hours before going off together to a late dinner.
“We made some progress on START (Strategic Arms Reduction Talks),” Baker said after the meeting with Gorbachev. “We keep hoping that we can accomplish (an agreement in time for the summit). I know President Bush would like to see agreement on the major substantive issues. So would President Gorbachev.”
“I have always believed the main points will be agreed upon,” Shevardnadze added. “Things are moving in that direction. . . . We accomplished a lot today.”
Soviet Marshal Sergei F. Akhromeyev, Gorbachev’s main military adviser, was quoted by the Japanese news agency Kyodo as saying that all of the key issues, including a stubborn dispute over cruise missiles, had been settled.
“The major questions that were unresolved before today were resolved today,” Akhromeyev was quoted as saying. He added that the general principles of a START agreement would be ready for the summit and that a detailed treaty could be signed before the end of this year, Kyodo reported.
U.S. officials said they were baffled by that assessment. A senior official said that, if all issues had been resolved, there would be no need for the previously unscheduled session today.
In addition to progress on START, Shevardnadze said “major progress” was made toward a U.S.-Soviet agreement to destroy about 80% of their chemical weapons stockpiles. Bush proposed the complete destruction of the superpower chemical arsenals as an interim measure pending completion of a global ban on poison gas.
The Soviet foreign minister also said the talks produced “more mutual understanding” between Washington and Moscow on the 23-nation negotiations going on in Vienna to reduce the tanks, artillery and other non-nuclear weapons in Europe.
A senior State Department official said Baker sent a letter to other members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization earlier this week outlining new U.S. proposals for the conventional forces talks.
But the official said Baker and Shevardnadze discussed the conventional forces negotiations only in broad terms.