Congressman Defends Storage of Warheads

APU.S. Congressman Curt Weldon at a press briefing Wednesday
As U.S. and Russian military officials held a second-day of closed-door talks in Washington, a visiting U.S. congressman said Wednesday that the United States had good reason for wanting to store some of the strategic nuclear warheads it has promised to cut from its arsenal.

"Russia continues to build nuclear weapons," U.S. Congressman Curt Weldon said in a telephone interview. "We don't. For those reasons, we may want to keep some of our warheads."

Russia is unhappy with a Pentagon plan to trim the U.S. nuclear arsenal by putting some warheads in storage rather than destroying them, and some officials are worried that the United States will store the delivery vehicles too.

"My own feeling is that we should destroy the missiles," Weldon said.

Weldon has been in Moscow since Sunday discussing, among other things, the questions raised after Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin pledged in November to cut their countries nuclear arsenals by two-thirds.

The Russian government also is unhappy about Bush's unwillingness to sign a formal treaty on the nuclear warhead reductions.

Weldon explained the U.S. position by saying that Bush is trying to avoid locking the United States into a treaty that becomes a "sacred cow," like the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

Bush fought Russian opposition for years before deciding unilaterally to withdraw from the 1972 U.S.-Soviet treaty, which sought to prevent nuclear attack by limiting both countries' defenses.

With ABM, "the piece of paper became the issue," Weldon said. "The focus should be the substance of what we actually do."

Although it won't sign a treaty, the United States will sign some kind of agreement, "sooner rather than later," he said.

The Republican congressman said he was briefed on the Pentagon's recently concluded Nuclear Posture Review, which includes the proposal to house the warheads, and that Congress will play a key role in its implementation.

"I've asked for more material and will make sure that I'm involved," said Weldon, the chairman of the Military Procurement Subcommittee, which oversees the annual authorization for procurement of American military weapon systems.

Weldon, who travels frequently to Russia, said improving relations with Russia is one of his top priorities. He is the founder of the Duma-Congress Study Group, which coordinates legislative efforts.

Since his arrival Sunday, he has met with several people in the Duma, addressed students at Moscow University Touro, given an interview on Ekho Moskvy radio station and toured the International Science and Technology Center.

At the Pentagon, delegations led by Colonel General Yury Baluyevsky, first deputy of the General Staff, and U.S. Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith met Tuesday for the first of two days of talks.

They were expected to meet again for Wednesday, but details were not expected until late in the day Washington time.