In what would amount to opening a new front in its war on terrorism,
the United States is considering sending 100 to 200 U.S. special
operations soldiers to Georgia, Legislators said Monday there
was nothing essentially new in reports that the United States
is preparing military contingency plans to use nuclear weapons
in certain tactical situations against at least seven countries,
But experts observed that while U.S. strategy in itself was not
cause for friction between Moscow and Washington, political and
media rhetoric surrounding the issue could ratchet up tension.
The Los Angeles Times reported Saturday that the Pentagon sent
Congress a classified report in January in which China, Russia,
Iraq, North Korea, Iran, Libya and Syria were included as countries
against which the military should be prepared to use nuclear weapons.
Reaction over the weekend from the head of the State Duma's foreign
affairs committee, Dmitry Rogozin, and former Defense Ministry
official Leonid Ivashov, both known hawks, was predictably tough.
Responses on Monday were calmer.
State Duma Deputy Andrei Nikolayev, head of the defense committee
and a member of the centrist People's Deputy faction, said he
saw "nothing strange" about the Pentagon plans. Any
country with nuclear weapons "also has plans about using
them," he said, Interfax reported.
Another Duma deputy, Alexei Arbatov, deputy head of the defense
committee and a member of the liberal Yabloko party, said in a
telephone interview that the United States and Russia have always
included each other in contingency plans to use nuclear weapons
and that the recent "Nuclear Posture Review" indicated
Yury Fyodorov, a nuclear arms expert at the PIR Center think tank,
agreed. "I wouldn't over-dramatize the reports," he
said, speaking by telephone. "It's well known that during
the 1990s and earlier, the United States' strategic nuclear plan
always included Russia."
Others were more concerned. Deputy Konstantin Kosachyov, Rogozin's
deputy on the Duma's foreign-relations committee, said the plan
in fact reflected a change from what he said had been a U.S. strategy
of using nuclear weapons as a means of last resort.
The United States risked seriously destabilizing the global situation,
he said in remarks reported by Interfax.
Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said if the reported plans actually
exist, they "can only raise regret and concern," Interfax
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser
Condoleeza Rice on Sunday played down suggestions that the U.S.
had moved closer toward using nuclear weapons.
Ivanov said this was not enough. He asked for reassurances from
"a higher level" that Washington has not adopted such
Vice President Dick Cheney, in London on Monday, described the
report as a routine update to Congress and said the United States
is not targeting any nation for nuclear attack.
PIR Center's Fyodorov, meanwhile, said "the real question
is why the Russian media and certain politicians are using the
Los Angeles Times report to begin a propaganda campaign,"
he said. "That could complicate the situation."
Kommersant newspaper reported on the news under the headline "A
friendly nuclear strike awaits Russia." Nezavisimaya Gazeta
included the NPR on a long list of U.S. slights since President
Vladimir Putin agreed to support Washington's war on terrorism.
Both papers are controlled by Boris Berezovsky, a former Kremlin
insiderwho has become Putin's harshest critic.
Arbatov pointed to another ramification of the U.S. nuclear contingency
plans, saying they indicated that Washington's statements reassuring
Moscow that it was no longer seen as a Cold War-era enemy were
little more than "demagoguery and lies." He said Washington's
intention had been to reduce criticism for its plans to abandon
the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. But given the implication of
the NPR -- that Russia is still considered a threat -- a U.S.
exit from the ABM Treaty would in fact destabilize global security,
"The attitude of cautiousness on both sides will continue
until nuclear arms are finally
reduced and both sides become equal partners," Arbatov said.
Arbatov and Fyorodov both said reports about the NPR would not
affect ongoing U.S.-Russia talks to reduce strategic nuclear arms
stockpiles. "The talks are being conducted with professionals
who understand the reality of the situation," Fyodorov said.
Less clear is whether the new flap over nuclear arms policy will
affect Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov's three days of talks this
week in Washington.
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