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Yeltsin, Baker approve science research center

Published Oct. 10, 2005

Russian President Boris Yeltsin and U.S. Secretary of State James Baker have agreed to create a new science center to pay for peacetime research by the elite scientists who once designed Soviet nuclear weapons.

The plan, approved Monday in a three-hour meeting in the Kremlin, will be launched with $25-million from the United States, a sum officials admitted was not enough to do the job. Germany agreed to provide additional support, although no specific figure was set.

The United States also will encourage the U.S. private sector and other countries to provide money, Baker said.

Yeltsin and Baker failed to reach agreement on any major new arms control measures, although the Russian president said they had made progress and predicted a new pact slashing U.S. and Russian arsenals will be ready to sign when he meets President Bush in a summit meeting later this year in Washington. Yeltsin said the meeting will be in July but a senior administration official said no date has been set.

Yeltsin said he and Baker agreed to terminate the production of nuclear-carrying bombers such as the American B-1. The plan will have limited impact because the Pentagon already has stopped building B-1s and the administration has decided to sharply curtail the acquisition of B-2 stealth bombers.

Russia also accepted an American offer of equipment and technical advice for the prompt, safe transportation and disposal of nuclear weapons. U.S. officials said the United States will provide 25 secure railroad cars and 250 specially designed containers to move nuclear weapons. A new joint working group will be established to study the peaceful use of the plutonium and uranium to be removed from junked bombs.

Baker agreed that the United States would pay much of the cost of storing Russian nuclear weapons to ensure they are kept safe.

Yeltsin also had a more down-to-earth matter on his mind Monday when he met Baker. The Russian president asked the United States for another $600-million in grain credits so people in his country can have bread.

Baker said the United States already has provided $3.75-billion in credits, of which $3.1-billion have been used. The remaining $675-million will be used by April 1, Yeltsin said, and the additional guarantees will be used in the second quarter of 1992.

A senior U.S. official said Baker made clear to Yeltsin the importance of Russia repaying the loans which the United States guarantees for the grain sales. He said Russia so far has kept up its payments in accordance with the provisions of U.S. law, and Baker said the additional $600-million probably would be approved.

The two apparently had a rougher time readily seeing eye-to-eye on cuts in their nuclear arsenal. Yeltsin is ready to have no more than 2,500 nuclear warheads, but the United States wants almost twice that many as a limit.

President Bush last month proposed cutting the U.S. long-range nuclear arsenal to 4,700 warheads _ a 60 percent cut from its current force _ and to about 4,500 for Russia _ also an estimated 60 percent less than it now has. Yeltsin wants both sides to have 2,500.

The meeting in the gold-trimmed Catherine's Hall seemed to put U.S. relations with Yeltsin on a business-as-usual basis. The Russian leader appeared at ease with his new role of world leader.

"We are getting to know each other," Yeltsin said of Baker. "The secretary and I deal with each other more easily than we did about a year ago."

In his joint news conference with Baker, Yeltsin revealed the agreement on the science center, apparently pre-empting a planned ceremonial announcement by Baker, Russian Foreign Minister Andrei V. Kozyrev and the German ambassador to Moscow.

The center will be based in Troitsk, a town about 20 miles southwest of Moscow built especially for scientists, according to Yeltsin's arms control adviser Yevgeny Velikhov. It also will operate branches in Arzamas and Chelyabinsk _ the formerly closed centers where Soviet nuclear weapons were designed and built, Velikhov was quoted as saying by the semi-official Russian Information Agency.

According to a written statement issued by the United States, Russia and Germany, the center is intended to develop, select and finance scientific projects to be carried out at facilities in Russia and other states of the former Soviet Union.

A primary objective is to provide useful work for the elite nuclear scientists. Russian nuclear scientists, numbering about 3,000, used to live extremely privileged lives. However, their living standards and prestige has plummeted with the demise of the Soviet superpower. Already there have been many rumors _ but no proof _ that countries such as Libya and Iraq have tried to tempt Russian experts into working for them by offering them large salaries.

Scientists at the top-secret laboratory that designed Moscow's nuclear arsenal appealed to Baker for the money needed to convert the facility to peacetime work during an extraordinary meeting Friday in Chelyabinsk 70, a closed city on the Siberian side of the Ural mountains. Baker then outlined the U.S.-Russia-Germany proposal but cautioned that nothing was official until Yeltsin gave his approval.

A senior administration official said the $25-million American payment comes from a $400-million appropriation that Congress set aside last year from the Pentagon budget to help liquidate the Soviet nuclear arsenal.

Without such aid, Russia would need as much as seven years just to construct warehouses to store the plutonium taken out of nuclear weapons, Russian officials maintain.

U.S. specialists already are teaching Russian scientists ways to dismantle the estimated 17,000 short-range nuclear weapons that Russia is collecting from the former Soviet states. The Americans hope all the weapons will be on Russian territory by July 1.

_ Information from Associated Press and Cox News Service was used in this report.