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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

On Moscow Visit, Perry Plans Call for Greater Disarmament

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry departs for Moscow on Tuesday for a visit to bolster military ties and press Russian legislators to further cut their nuclear arsenal.

Perry, who will be accompanied on a three-day visit by three U.S. senators, is expected to face hostile questions in an appearance before members of the State Duma on Thursday as he urges them to ratify the START II nuclear disarmament treaty.

The treaty, approved by the U.S. Senate in January but in trouble in the Duma, would reduce U.S. and Russian long-range nuclear warhead stockpiles to fewer than 3,500 each by 2003. START II, signed in 1993, would lower stockpiles to a third of Cold War levels.

A senior U.S. defense official said last week that nuclear arsenals were expensive to maintain and that the new cut, coming at a time of economic and military turmoil in Russia, would free up money for Russia's struggling conventional military forces.

But many members of the Duma fear that reductions beyond the current Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which is reducing long-range arsenals to about 6,000 warheads each, would leave Moscow open to Western blackmail because Russia's economy and military forces were reeling under struggling economic reforms.

Relations between Washington and Moscow have been further strained as the United States and its NATO allies move ahead toward next year's planned acceptance of some former Soviet-allied East European states into NATO membership. Moscow opposes such a move.

"START II is clearly in some degree of difficulty. Ratification is not certain if you took a look at the votes now," the senior defense official, who asked not to be identified, told reporters. "We're certainly not sending the secretary out to save a treaty which is otherwise sinking. But I think it is fair to say that what we hope to do is establish a factual basis for their further discussions."

Perry, who will hold important bilateral military talks with Russian Defense Minister Igor Rodionov on Wednesday and Thursday before appearing before the Duma, will be accompanied to Moscow by Democratic U.S. Senators Sam Nunn of Georgia and Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, and Republican Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana.

Nunn and Lugar sponsored a law that sent millions of dollars to help finance nuclear cuts in the former Soviet Union. Perry and the senators will also hold talks with Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin but it was not clear whether they would meet outspoken Russian security chief Alexander Lebed.

Lebed visited NATO headquarters in Brussels last week and said Russia would not try to stand in the way of the alliance's planned eastward expansion to include such countries as Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary. But he urged careful and slow movement in that direction.

Before returning to Washington, Perry and the senators will visit a Russian naval base near Arkhangelsk at the edge of the Arctic to watch the destruction of former Soviet missile submarines under START I.