Bush and Yeltsin Sign Historic Weapons Treaty
START II virtually eliminates the possibility of a nuclear `first strike' by US or Russia
UNDER the glow of the massive crystal chandeliers in the Kremlin's baroque St. Vladimir Hall, Russian President Boris Yeltsin and US President Bush yesterday signed a treaty marking the transformation of two deadly foes into potential allies.Skip to next paragraph
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The START II pact drastically reduces the most destructive nuclear weapons possessed by both nations and makes it virtually impossible for either country to threaten to carry out a crippling first blow. Calling it "the treaty of hope," Mr. Yeltsin described the new arms pact as "a major step on the path to realizing mankind's centuries-old historic dream of disarmament."
The Russian leader bathed his American counterpart in praise and offered repeated expressions of hope that there would be no "lull in bilateral relations" with the change in US leaders. He revealed that he had sent a letter two days ago to President-elect Clinton to this effect, proposing an early working summit in a "neutral" location to ensure this.
President Bush, now in his last days in office, did not spare kind words for Yeltsin, a man with whom relations have not always been smooth. He saluted the straight-talking former Urals Communist Party boss for holding the ramparts of democracy against the attempted hard-line coup in August 1991.
Bush characterized the new treaty as the end point of a "half century" of confrontation. "Today the cold war is over and for the first time in history, an American president has set foot in a democratic Russia," he said.
Bush's mind is clearly on history, and his place in it. "I take great pride that on my watch, Germany united and the Soviet Union as we used to know it will never be that way again," he said in an unusually reflective talk with US soldiers in Somalia before leaving for Moscow.
He proudly called START II "the most historic arms control treaty ever made." His recollections naturally drifted across the globe, from Panama to Desert Storm, which he credited with making Middle East peace talks possible.
"In terms of how the administration will be looked at, I think it will be predominately because of these successes in world affairs," Bush said. So it is hardly surprising that he is ending his term as a global peripatetic, jetting from the marines in Somalia to meetings with the Saudi king, then on to the weekend summit in Moscow and even a dinner with French President Francois Mitterrand on his way home.
Yeltsin, who spoke at length after the signing, is eager for his own reasons to put his stamp on history. "In its scale and importance, the treaty goes further than all other treaties ever signed in the field of disarmament," he said, a characterization that pointedly elevates this achievement above those of his predecessor, former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.
Yeltsin credited the ability to reach the second treaty in a matter of months - compared to the nine years devoted to START I - to the changes in Russia under his rule.
US officials, while pointing to the essential foundation provided by START I, share this view. "Democratic Russia has a very different perspective," a senior administration official said.
Both leaders gingerly sought to define the next stage of the Russian-US relationship as not merely the end to antagonism but the beginning of a new alliance. Yeltsin was more aggressive in his definitions, referring to a "strategic partnership" and to "our joint and determined movement to a new world order." `Mutual advantage'
Bush, clearly cognizant of the hurt pride of many Russians after the Soviet Union's collapse, was careful to deny any US attempt to seek "special advantage" from the difficult process of change in Russia. "Our future is one of mutual advantage," he said.