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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Reviews Russia's Nuclear Aid

WASHINGTON — The White House is starting a comprehensive review of all American aid programs to Russia set up to stop the spread of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, a senior administration official said Wednesday.

The broad review, started by National Security Council officials who have previously been critical of some of these programs, is likely to significantly change how Washington spends more than $760 million a year trying to dismantle former Soviet nuclear, biological and chemical complexes and prevent unconventional weapons and hazardous materials from being either sold to rogue states and terrorists or stolen by them.

The senior official said that several of the programs, such as the Department of Energy's $173 million program to strengthen the security and accounting for fissile material at nuclear weapons storage sites, appeared to be "very effective.'' Others, several administration officials said, may not be money well spent, like the more than $6 billion long-term effort to help Russia and the United States dispose of 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium each. Programs deemed ineffective could be sharply reduced, or even scuttled.

The review comes at a time of growing tension between Russia and the United States fueled by the discovery of a suspected spy for Russia in the top ranks of the FBI, its determination to build a defensive shield against nuclear missiles and its criticism of Russia for selling nuclear technology to Iran.

The administration's adoption of what it calls a "realistic'' or "unsentimental'' approach to Russia has prompted Russian officials to accuse Washington of being out of step with the times, intent on reviving Cold War policies and abandoning the previous administration's effort to treat Russia as a partner. Hence, the administration's review risks exacerbating tensions with Russia. It could also fuel concerns among Democrats and other critics of President George Bush's more conservative stance toward Russia that the administration might use the review to punish Russia for selling sensitive technology to Iran or to justify deep cuts in nonproliferation programs.

The senior administration official stressed Wednesday that the review was aimed at improving the quality, effectiveness and transparency of the nonproliferation programs. Its goal is not to punish Russia or undermine U.S. commitment to helping Russia safeguard dangerous weapons material and prevent the theft, diversion or sale of unconventional weapons and expertise.

"This is not a challenge to Russia or an effort to dismantle nonproliferation programs,'' the official said. "This is about enabling the progress we've made to continue and making nonproliferation programs even more effective. We want to strengthen nonproliferation.''

The review is examining dozens of programs run mainly by the Pentagon and the departments of energy and state that have poured millions of dollars into Russia and the former Soviet republics since the Cold War. Most were created by the Clinton administration, but a few began as congressional initiatives backed by former President George Bush.

The wide-ranging programs have tried to help Russia dismantle its vast unconventional weapons complexes, safeguard nuclear and other hazardous materials and prevent the former Soviet scientists who produced them from selling their products and skills to rogue states and terrorist groups.

The review is parallel to a broad review of Russia policy begun by the White House recently, but separate from it. The nonproliferation review will be conducted by senior officials at the National Security Council and is expected to last six to eight weeks, officials said.

While the official was reluctant to discuss the administration's attitudes toward specific programs in advance of the review, he said that the "scorecard'' of the Department of Defense's Cooperative Threat Reduction programs, which received $458 million from Congress in this fiscal year, was "pretty impressive.'' By the end of 2000, an administration official said, those programs, among other things, had deactivated 5,288 missile warheads, destroyed 419 long-range nuclear missiles and 367 silos, eliminated 81 bombers, 292 submarine missile launchers and 174 submarine missiles, and sealed 194 nuclear test holes and sites in Russia and other ex-Soviet republics.

The impending review received a strong endorsement Wednesday from an influential Democrat who helped pioneer nonproliferation programs with Russia. Former Senator Sam Nunn said that any new administration "should take a comprehensive look at programs to reduce the threat of weapons, materiel and know-how coming out of the Soviet Union.'' The programs, he added, "need better cooperation and to fit into a broader strategic picture.''

Nunn, who now chairs the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a private group financed by Ted Turner to reduce the threat of nuclear and other weapons, presided this week over a conference in Atlanta on nonproliferation challenges in Russia. He said that both Russian and U.S. participants would "favor strengthening those programs,'' despite some frank discussion of their weaknesses.

Nunn said that he hoped the review would give such programs a higher priority in the new administration.