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Rice’s Plan to Inspect Russian Nuclear Sites Lost in Translation

MosNews | April 21 2005

During her meetings with top Russian officials Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made several sensational statements but her interlocutors appeared either to misunderstand or to ignore them, the Kommersant Daily wrote Thursday.

Condoleezza Rice effectively admitted that the U.S. was set to inspect Russia’s nuclear facilities, and unequivocally demanded that Putin resign in 2008 after his second term in office expires. She also hinted that Belarus would soon see an “Orange Revolution”. Her Russian interlocutors pretended stubbornly that they didn’t hear anything, the Russian daily writes.

If Rice’s 24-hour visit here made anything clear, it was the complexities of dealing with a Cold War foe become ally in the war on terror and a major oil supplier in a fuel-hungry world. Rice described President Vladimir Putin’s centralization of power and clampdown on independent broadcast media as “very worrying” and said “the trends have not been positive on the democracy side”.

She criticized the judiciary, warned Putin against illegally seeking a third term and cautioned that the world was watching to see how state moves against the oil giant Yukos and its jailed chairman play out, the AFP news agency reported.

A bomb scare prevented the U.S Secretary of State from checking into her hotel immediately upon arrival. Instead, she had a dinner with Russia’s Defense Minister Ivanov.

Following that dinner, on Wednesday morning, Rice told the Ekho Moskvy radio station of the United States’ intention to inspect Russian nuclear facilities.

Responding to those who consider American access to the Russian nuclear facilities as infringing on Russian sovereignty, Rice answered “I do not consider the inspections that have to be done as a question of sovereignty. Nobody wants nuclear materials or weapons to get into the hands of the bad guys. As well as the U.S., Russia also confronts very unpleasant incidents connected with terrorism. We know what is going to happen if terrorists have access to such weapons.”

However, Ivanov said Wednesday the issue of such inspections were never raised at the Tuesday dinner. He not only refuted Rice’s words but also he let it be understood that the issue of U.S. inspections is not on the agenda at all. “The question of American experts visiting Russian nuclear facilities was not examined. And nobody’s talking about it,” he told journalists Wednesday.

The head of the Russian Foreign Ministry Sergei Lavrov was more cautious. He recalled that in February the presidents of Russian and the United States, during their meeting in Bratislava, “brought complete clarity into this issue. They gave specific orders to the organizations of both countries to cooperate in the sphere of security provision for nuclear materials and nuclear facilities.” Lavrov said that he had not taken part in the Rice-Ivanov meeting and “had not heard anything about any new agreements” concerning U.S. inspections of Russian nuclear facilities.

However, the content of the “old” agreements reached in Bratislava and mentioned by Lavrov is not clear.

As Kommersant wrote on Feb. 28 of this year, right after that summit of both presidents two versions of the joint declaration about nuclear security were publicized. In the text that appeared on the Kremlin Web site was an extra paragraph that was not in the White House text. This paragraph said that “until July 1, 2005, the Ministry of Defense of Russia will specify the rest of the objects where it is necessary to improve security measures.”

And the “visits to the facilities of Rosatom and the 12th Main Department of the Defense Ministry of RF (supervising all Russian nuclear arsenals) will start before December 2005. It meant in reality that it is reasonable to expect inspection of the Russian civil and military nuclear facilities by U.S. inspectors before the end of this year.