(CNSNews.com) - With only months left to serve in office, President Clinton flies to Moscow this weekend to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss key issues of nuclear arms control. Both sides are playing down expectations about the outcome.
National security analysts say the Russian leader is not expected to enter wholeheartedly into negotiations with a Democratic president who could soon be replaced by Republican George W Bush.
For his part, Clinton goes to the table knowing that he is not likely to get US Senate ratification for a deal he might strike on arms control.
The Kremlin is not expected to drop its opposition to a US proposal for a $60 billion defense umbrella that President Clinton is expected to approve in the fall.
Construction of even a limited missile shield violates the 28-year-old Antiballistic Missile Treaty, the Russians say, and would compel them either to match it - which is neither financially or technologically possible for them - or give up the principle of nuclear parity.
The US argues that the treaty is no longer valid. The US signed the 1972 ABM Treaty, not with Russia, but with the Soviet Union, an entity that no longer exists.
The US says that it will need a national missile defense system to protect itself and its allies against possible attacks from "rogue" states such as North Korea, Iraq and Iran in the not-too-distant future.
"The problem for the administration is that it has nothing to offer Russia," said Baker Spring, a senior national security analyst with the Heritage Foundation. "The primary concern of Russia is not about whether the United States would like to 'amend' the ABM Treaty in some way. What the Russians are really concerned about is whether there will be an ABM Treaty at all."
Because Russia is not a party to the treaty, the administration wants to bring into force an agreement it signed with Russia and three other states born out of the former Soviet Union to make them party to the treaty and effectively revive it.
"The problem is that can only be done with the consent of the Senate," Spring said. "So the future of the AMB Treaty is not in the hands of President Clinton and the executive branch but rather in the hands of the US Senate. Therefore the Clinton administration cannot make a commitment to the Russians that the treaty, at the end of the day, will still be in force."
Breakthrough Possible in Early Warning Negotiations
At a special Pentagon briefing Thursday, a senior official who requested anonymity told reporters a breakthrough on the sharing of early warning technology was possible during the summit or immediately afterward, when Defense Secretary Cohen meets with Russian defense officials.
"It's in everybody's interest that the Russian government have excellent warning information," he said. To this end, the Pentagon has been negotiating with the Russians on implementing a proposal by President Clinton in September 1998 that the two countries share early warning information.
"In fact, it may be a summit deliverable, in which case we would want to move out to implement it. If not, we will want to push negotiations faster so that we do get to implement it," the senior Pentagon official said.
Conservatives also cautioned that negotiating drastic cuts in nuclear arms stockpiles can have the effect of triggering an arms race. The United States has kept peace in the world by maintaining a nuclear arsenal that is very difficult to match, they say.
"There is a theoretical and practical level [of nuclear arms stockpiles] below which you cannot drop, and I think we're getting dangerously close to that," said Brian Kennedy, vice president of the Claremont Institute. "Once you drop below a certain level, you give some countries a certain incentive to build more to come up and match you. If there are drastic reductions, that could lead to an arms race as well."