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Tajikistan promises to curb nuclear sales

The mineral-producing former Soviet republic of Tajikistan agreed Thursday to adopt a U.S.-designed program for restricting the sale of weapons components and promised never to sell any of its uranium to countries that could use it to build atomic bombs.

President Rakhman Nabiyev made those and other promises to Secretary of State James Baker, who flew into the snow-blanketed capital of Tajikistan on Thursday from Turkmenistan.

Baker is touring seven former Soviet republics, including five with which Washington has not yet established diplomatic relations.

He has been trying to use the carrot of U.S. economic assistance and diplomatic recognition to entice the leaders of those republics to commit themselves to a list of about a dozen principles, including free markets, democratic elections, respect for existing borders, protection of minorities and promises not to develop or sell nuclear weapons technology.

Judging from his terse remarks to reporters after Thursday's talks, Nabiyev was much more receptive to Baker's arms-control proposals than he was to his democracy and human-rights suggestions.

How much any of those promises are worth is an open question. They are being made by officials like Nabiyev, the head of the Communist Party in Tajikistan in the mid-1980s, who was recently brought out of retirement by former Communists to run against an Islamic fundamentalist slate. He won 58 percent of the vote but the Islamic Renaissance Party, which has ties with neighboring Iran and Afghanistan, won 38 percent.

A U.S. official involved in setting up Baker's visit said the Tajiks could not have been more forthcoming. They said "yes" to every U.S. logistical and scheduling request, the official said, but found it difficult to deliver on many of them _ an attitude that might apply to their commitment to American principles as well.

None of the republics want to say no to the United States. But their new governments are so inexperienced in international affairs that they had to be advised by the American security teams on how to organize a proper motorcade.

Whether Tajikistan has a free market economy is largely irrelevant to U.S. interests. But its weapons-export policies are a real concern, and were a focus of Baker's discussion Thursday with the president.

None of the Central Asian states Baker is visiting on this tour have nuclear weapons. Those that had short-range nuclear weapons deployed on their soil by the former Soviet Union have already had them withdrawn into Russia.

Nevertheless, Tajikistan and neighboring Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are rich in uranium ore. Both have also been visited before Baker by high-ranking Iranian and Libyan delegations.

Yeltsin keeps rival busy: Russian President Boris Yeltsin Thursday attempted to silence Alexander Rutskoi, his increasingly critical vice president, by putting him in charge of agriculture, long the most troubled sector of the Russian economy.

Yeltsin, under attack from both conservatives and radicals over his economic reforms, said that he had ordered Rutskoi to oversee the establishment of private farming as Russia ends more than six decades of collective agriculture.

Answering critical questions from members of the Russian legislature, Yeltsin said that he had reached "a common understanding" with Rutskoi in a two-hour, closed-door talk Wednesday evening, after Rutskoi denounced his reform program as "economic genocide" against the country.

"To occupy his time to the fullest extent, (Rutskoi) has been entrusted with the task of overseeing agricultural reform in Russia," Yeltsin said, a grin creeping across his face, as lawmakers guffawed. "He can report to the president twice monthly and to parliament monthly."

The country's previous Soviet leaders often put their Communist Party rivals in charge of agriculture, a task doomed to failure, and the legislators immediately recognized the irony of Rutskoi's new assignment.

Commonwealth at stake: Leaders of former Soviet republics headed to Minsk, the capital of Belarus, for a summit today on military matters that could decide the fate of the struggling Commonwealth of Independent States. The main division is between Russia, which wants to keep a large, joint military, and republics like Ukraine, which want their own armies and the smallest possible commonwealth force.

_ New York Times, Los Angeles Times.