News

[EXCERPT] U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing

Monday, May 12, 1997 Briefer: Nicholas Burns

...............

QUESTION: Is there an investigation underway of the
reports about the Russian missile system malfunctioning with
their nuclear weapons pointed in this direction? Can you
comment on that? 

MR. BURNS: Is there an investigation underway? 

QUESTION: Or, is there - what can you say about that? 

MR. BURNS: No, I don't believe there is an investigation
underway. Are you referring to the report in The
Washington Times today? 

QUESTION: Yes. 

MR. BURNS: Let me just tell you, first of all, I can't
speak to the report because the report refers to a classified
intelligence document, and we never talk about classified
intelligence documents, at least not in public. 

Now, secondly, obviously in our relationship with Russia,
the issue of the stability of the nuclear forces on both sides -
the efficacy of command and control procedures in both
Washington and Moscow and throughout both countries is
an exceedingly important question. You can imagine that the
United States devotes a considerable amount of resources
-- intelligence, the State Department, other resources -- to
making sure that we have the best view of whether or not
the Russian Government has command and control of its
forces. 

Now, just in the last couple of months, Prime Minister
Chernomyrdin, the Russian Prime Minister, launched his
own inquiry into this subject after some comments made by
the Defense Ministry. Prime Minister Chernomyrdin said at
the end of that inquiry that he was satisfied that Russia does
have control of its nuclear forces, and that is our view. 

We believe that nuclear weapons in Russia remain under
the secure and centralized control of the Russian
Government. I can also tell you that we have a cooperative
threat reduction program with Russia, and the purpose of
that program is to help them both dismantle nuclear
weapons that ought to be dismantled under international
agreements and maximize their ability to assure the safety of
the storage of their nuclear weapons, and their nuclear
command and control facilities. 

We have put a lot of time into this, a lot of attention. We
gave it very, very serious thought. The best way to control
nuclear weapons ultimately, of course, is to reduce their
number. That is what START I and START II is all about.
If the Russian Duma would simply ratify START II, then we
would get on to START III. 

The other thing I would like to say is that part of the article
spent time trying to diminish the importance of what
President Yeltsin and President Clinton negotiated. That
was the de-targeting initiative of 1994, meaning that for the
first time since the start of the Cold War in the late 1940s,
the United States no longer targets Russian cities or Russian
defense industries or any Russian targets with our nuclear
forces. Russia and Ukraine and the others - previously
Ukraine when it had nuclear weapons - but Russia now no
longer targets the United States. Part of the article was
spent trying to say that this simply is not a very significant
development because the weapons can be re-armed in a
short period of time. 

Actually, the de-targeting of the nuclear forces on both
sides reduces the risk of accident, and reduces the risk of
unintentional launch because a process has to be followed
to re-target the missiles. So not only is it symbolically
important that we no longer target them and they don't
target us, it is materially significant and scientifically
significant that that is the case because minutes do count in
this business. So that is our response to today's article in
The Washington Times. 

QUESTION: Do you quarrel with the assertion then than it
would take only a few minutes to re-target? 

MR. BURNS: No, I think that is absolutely true. But are
we better off having de-targeted from a military point of
view, not symbolically - we are symbolically, but militarily?
Yes, we are. We certainly are because it reduces the risk of
accident.