Gore, Kiriyenko Sign Pacts to Reduce Nuclear Dangers
Bonded by the shared interests of their families and a desire to save the world from nuclear peril, Vice President Al Gore and Russian Prime Minister Sergei V. Kiriyenko deemed their first session of the U.S.-Russian Joint Commission on Friday fruitful and grounds for real friendship.
Gore’s fleeting, 24-hour visit to Moscow produced agreements to retrain Russian nuclear scientists to use their skills in civilian industries and to cooperate in controlling the plutonium removed from dismantled nuclear weapons.
In keeping with the trip’s theme of curbing nuclear proliferation, Gore urged the Russian Duma, the Communist-dominated lower house of parliament, to ratify the languishing START II treaty so talks can begin on a third pact to reduce strategic nuclear arms.
Gore also spoke with vacationing Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin by telephone to discuss plans for a September visit to Russia by President Clinton and to praise Yeltsin for his attendance and “eloquent speech” at last week’s burial of Czar Nicholas II and some of his family in St. Petersburg.
“I congratulate you on your statesmanship and leadership,” Gore said of Yeltsin’s decision to break ranks with the Russian Orthodox Church and lend stature to the last rites for Russia’s last czar 80 years after his execution.
At a news conference, Gore praised the warm, personal nature of the talks with Kiriyenko, while the Russian prime minister emphasized that relations between the two erstwhile rivals have settled into a “pragmatic” state after erratic eras of animosity and euphoria.
“I have no doubt whatsoever that Prime Minister Kiriyenko and I, as co-chairs of the Binational Commission and also as friends, are off to an excellent start,” Gore said of the meeting that for the previous five years was called the Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission.
Kiriyenko was named four months ago to replace Viktor S. Chernomyrdin, who was fired as government chief along with the rest of Yeltsin’s Cabinet in March. Although Gore had met Kiriyenko a year ago when the latter served as fuel and energy minister, Friday’s session was the first for the two men as respective heads of the commission charged with ironing out post-Cold War relations.
“Let’s seize this moment of promise for constructive change,” Gore said.
Kiriyenko echoed Gore’s frequent appeals to build a better world for the sake of children, noting that they had quickly found common personal ground on which to build a friendship as both have 15-year-old sons keen on computers, met their wives while still students and have families that enjoy scuba diving.
While the two leaders were signing agreements to reduce the risk of nuclear technology reaching “rogue” states, Alexander I. Lebed, a retired general and now the politically ambitious governor of the Krasnoyarsk region, addressed a letter to Kiriyenko in which he threatened to take control of nuclear weapons stationed in his Siberian province.
Lebed, who has made no secret of his aspirations to succeed Yeltsin as president, said he was considering taking over the nuclear forces because military officers haven’t been paid for five months and security has been dangerously undermined.
“We in Krasnoyarsk are not rich yet, but in exchange for the status of a nuclear territory we could feed the formation and become a headache for the world community along with India and Pakistan,” Lebed warned, according to excerpts published by the Interfax news agency and confirmed by Kiriyenko’s office.
Lebed’s threat of a nuclear takeover seemed to hint at the kind of security risks Gore and Kiriyenko placed at the top of their agenda. But as any such action would draw immediate reaction from Moscow, the nationalist general’s words were largely being dismissed as political posturing.