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Tuesday, 30 May, 2000, 05:47 GMT 06:47 UK
Lukewarm peace after Cold War
A Russian mobile missile
The Cold War has given way to a lukewarm peace
By BBC Washington correspondent Paul Reynolds

The highlight of President Clinton's European tour will be his first full meeting with the newly-installed Russian President, Vladimir Putin.

But do not expect the kind of backslapping, joking and emotional encounter which Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin used to have.

Vladimir Putin is a very different sort of character and seems, above all, to demand respect. The famous Clinton charm will be tested.
Russian President Vladimir Putin
This will be the first full meeting between President Clinton and President Putin

This reflects the new relationship between the United States and Russia in the post-Boris era.

It will be a more wary one as Russia pushes forward with Washington having no idea about when it will stop as both sides base their relations, not on personal contacts between the presidents, but on hard-headed assessments of where their interests lie.

Policies, not personalities, are what will define the temperature.

Missile defensiveness

The big issue will be anti-ballistic missile defence.
An anti-missile missile is launched
US anti-missile system tests are rattling Russia

The Americans are currently testing - not very successfully so far - an anti-missile missile.

Later this year, Mr Clinton is due to decide on whether to go ahead with constructing a system, to be based in Alaska, which would counter a potential threat from North Korea.

Such a system, however, would violate the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and Washington wants Moscow to agree to an amendment. Moscow has so far said no.

There is unlikely to be an agreement on this in the Moscow meeting.

No grand bargain

And nor, according to weapons expert Jo Cirincione, of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, will there will a "grand bargain".

Under this, the Russians would have traded acceptance of the limited anti-missile system for American agreement to further reduce offensive nuclear forces under a START III Treaty.

"There will be no grand bargain", says Mr Cirincione "and there probably won't be one before Clinton leaves office".

The Russians are too wary to commit themselves. The American plan smacks to them of Son of Star Wars. They didn't like the father; the son doesn't appeal either.

And yet, says Clinton's National Security adviser Sandy Berger, the Russians might be better off accepting a limited system from President Clinton than facing the possibility of a much more ambitious anti-missile deployment favoured by Republican Presidential candidate George Bush.

"That's a calculation they have to make," said Mr Berger. He apparently has not given up hope.

Something to show

Since there will be no grand bargain, some little bargains are on offer. After all, no meeting like this can pass without something to announce.

There could well be a deal under which Russia would be paid to dispose of 34 tons of weapons grade plutonium.

The United States is also helping to secure dangerous nuclear material at Russian naval bases to prevent them falling into the wrong hands.

And behind all this, the question being asked in Washington is where the new Russia is heading.
A Chechan woman stands in front of her wrecked home
Mr Putin's Chechyna campaign strained relations with the US

There have been some encouraging signs of real reform, such as getting to grips with a proper tax system.

It might lead to real benefits for the many and not just the few.

Lukewarm peace

But there have been setbacks, too, as seen from the Western side.

There has been Chechnya - a subject close to Mr Putin's heart - and moves against a media group in Moscow.

Mr Clinton is deliberately giving an interview in Moscow to an independent radio station to show his support. Such actions worry outsiders.

No wonder relations will remain wary until greater confidence is achieved by each side.

The Cold War is over, but the peace is only lukewarm.

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See also:

24 Mar 00 | Americas
Russia calls for 'Star Wars' ban
02 May 00 | Americas
Nuclear powers promise to disarm
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