U.S. Expert Pushes for Soviet Debt Write-Off

One of Washington's most influential security experts has said that the United States could call for a total write-off of Russia's Soviet-era debt, even if the move stirs the ire of Western allies such as Germany.

Richard Perle, who served as Assistant Secretary of Defense under former U.S. President Ronald Reagan and is regarded by some observers as an unofficial advisor to the current administration of U.S. President George W. Bush, told Vedomosti on Thursday that "under certain circumstances" it would be possible to consider writing off Russia's Soviet debt.

Debts inherited from the communist era should not burden a country trying to build a new society, he said.

Perle — now a resident fellow at the influential American Enterprise Institute, a conservative public policy research institute in Washington — first suggested the write-off earlier this month at a round table in Lisbon, shortly before Bush's debut European tour.

The issue of Russia's debt did not come up during Bush's one-day summit with President Vladimir Putin on Saturday. But some observers speculated that Perle's write-off idea was floated as a potential bargaining chip in Washington's debate with Moscow over the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, or ABM — which Bush wants to scrap as a "relic of the past," while Moscow clings on, insisting the treaty is the cornerstone of international security.

One well-known political analyst, who asked that his name not be used, said different groups in the Bush administration were debating various ways of pressuring Russia on the ABM treaty, with one faction pushing for debt relief as the main bargaining chip, while another group is calling for military aid and arms deals — such as the purchase of S-300 missile systems — as the best means of softening Moscow's stance on the treaty.

The analyst added that defense experts, especially "Cold Warriors" like Perle and Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld, seem to be supporting the debt relief approach to ABM talks — which suggests that the U.S. Defense Department is wary of cooperating with Russia on security issues.

Perle's position on U.S.-Russia relations — at least in public statements — seems to have softened under Bush. Last year, when the White House was controlled by Democrat Bill Clinton, Perle said in an interview with Radio Liberty that he was wary of Putin, a former KGB spy who seems quite proud of his former profession and place of employment.

But last week, Perle spoke with the same cautious optimism prevalent at Saturday's Bush-Putin summit.

U.S. attempts to build a new "constructive relationship" with Russia are long overdue, he said, adding that the Cold War ended long ago and it is strange that the process has proceeded so slowly.