US stunned by Yeltsin's nuclear present

BORIS YELTSIN, the Russian President, chose the second day of a visit to Peking yesterday to drop a diplomatic bombshell: he told a meeting of Chinese intellectuals that he would sign a sweeping arms reduction agreement with Washington next month.

The pact, known as Start-2, will cut strategic nuclear weapons by two-thirds. Mr Yeltsin's Chinese hosts have their own stock of nuclear weapons, but they play no role in Start-2.

It was news to the US Secretary of State, Lawrence Eagleburger, for whom these are confusing times. On Monday, Moscow had announced the return of the Cold War; yesterday, it declared it not only over but its weapons buried faster than Mr Eagleburger had planned.

At a conference in Stockholm at the beginning of the week, Mr Eagleburger sat in stunned silence as the Russian Foreign Minister, Andrei Kozyrev, delivered a speech peppered with belligerant anti- Western rhetoric from the past. Only after hustling Mr Kozyrev into a side room did Mr Eagleburger get the full story: it was a joke, a 'wake-up call' to show the world what would happen if hardliners ever seized control of the Kremlin.

Yesterday, Mr Eagleburger was in Brussels when he received the startling news about Start. Again he was stunned. Of course, he knew that talks were under way. They have been dragging on for months, complicated by the collapse of the Soviet Union and disagreement over how to handle nuclear weapons stationed in Ukraine and Kazakhstan. But, as far as Mr Eagleburger knew, there was still no final agreement on a signing.

It is not the first time that Mr Yeltsin has made baffling policy statements abroad. Last month, in South Korea, he announced that Russia would cut and then, within two or three years, halt production of military submarines. His military was flabbergasted. And, the following day, the Deputy Prime Minister, Valery Makharadze, promptly set the record straight: Mr Yeltsin had got things wrong; submarine production will be phased out only in Russia's Far Eastern shipyards.

Mr Eagleburger may well be waiting for someone to do the same on Start-2. But after praying on Monday that what Mr Kozyrev said was untrue, he is hoping that what Mr Yeltsin said might be true. 'I don't know any more than I've heard out of Peking . . . I hope he is right,' Mr Eagleburger said.

The head of Russian foreign intelligence yesterday welcomed proposals to bring his service under closer parliamentary control to ensure it acted within the law, Itar-Tass news agency said, Reuter reports.

Yevgeny Primakov, whose department previously formed part of the KGB security police, told a conference on security: 'Control by the Supreme Soviet (parliament) provides a reliable guarantee that Russian intelligence works in the framework of the law.' In the Soviet era, the KGB was a virtual law unto itself, with unlimited power to reach into every area of society.

Nikolai Kuznetsov, a member of the parliament's defence and security committee, said new draft legislation envisaged 'not only parliamentary control, but control by executive and judicial bodies of power'.

Mr Primakov listed among the main tasks of his service: monitoring the non- proliferation of nuclear weapons, collecting intelligence on 'technology critical for national security', tracking and anticipating regional conflicts, checking business partners of the Russian government and fighting international crime.