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U.S. May Stop Aiming Missiles at Russia

December 6, 1993

WASHINGTON (AP) _ With the Cold War over, the United States and Russia are discussing a plan to stop aiming their long-range nuclear missiles at each other. ″We are working it through now,″ President Clinton said Monday.

The missiles may be targeted instead on desolate spots on the high seas. There is a chance the targeting data would be removed entirely from the weapons, but experts said this could be risky if the missiles are accidentally launched.

The result, in any event, would be mostly symbolic since the missiles can be re-targeted within minutes, said U.S. officials who discussed the negotiations on condition they not be identified.

Clinton said ″we’re working very hard with the Russians ... to make them and ourselves and others feel more secure with that move.″ He said there was no final decision. A State Department spokeswoman, Christine Shelly, said recommendations may be sent to the president by early spring.

Whatever arrangement is made will not be verifiable, experts said. It is impossible to know where the other side’s missiles are aimed, and U.S. targeting is constantly changed to conform with changing strategic assessments and changes in the U.S. arsenal, they said.

The United States and Russia are committed to scaling down their arsenals of strategic nuclear missiles by about two-thirds by the end of the century. That will still leave potent stockpiles capable of causing massive destruction.

Three former Soviet republics that have strategic nuclear missiles on their territory - Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus - would also benefit from any U.S. plan to target missiles elsewhere, the officials said.

The administration is trying to overcome Ukrainian resistance to carrying out a promise to dismantle all its missiles. But Foreign Minister Anatoliy Zlenko stressed last week in Brussels, Belgium, after a meeting with Secretary of State Warren Christopher that the missiles in Ukraine were under Russian control.

American and Russian missile experts discussed de-targeting in Moscow last month as part of an ongoing survey of how to adjust to the end of the Cold War and a series of arms-reduction accords.

Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin authorized the review at their summit meeting in Vancouver, Canada, in April.

″In this collaborative effort, civilian and military planners are reevaluating our entire nuclear posture for the first time since the Cold War ended,″ the State Department said in a statement read by Ms. Shelly.

The officials said they did not know when an agreement between the United States and Russia on targeting might be concluded.

″If somehow a missile is launched accidentally, the idea is that it would come down in the Arctic or North Atlantic, and our main worry would be maybe hitting a bunch of whales,″ a U.S. general was quoted as telling The New York Times.

″The Soviet Union is dissolved, the Cold War is over, so we are taking a look at how we target,″ Lt. Sharon Heath, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Strategic Command near Omaha, Neb, told The Associated Press on Sunday.

Two nuclear weapons experts, Sidney Graybeal and Bruce Blair, said it was possible not to have the missiles targeted on any site. But they said this could be risky. In the event of an accidental nuclear launch the missiles could speed toward unintended targets instead of heading for open areas of the oceans if they were targeted there.

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