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House Approves U.S., Russian Nuclear Exchange Visits

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Associated Press
Sunday, May 12, 2002; Page A08

The House has approved legislation calling for exchange visits between the U.S. nuclear test site in Nevada and Russia's test site on an Arctic archipelago in an effort to promote openness in the face of reported signs Russia may be preparing to resume nuclear testing.

Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.), who sponsored the amendment, told the House last week that a classified intelligence briefing for certain members of Congress had included information on possible "new movement in the area of nuclear weapons and nuclear materials."

The New York Times reported on its Web site yesterday that classified briefings for select House and Senate members included information on a new analysis by the Joint Atomic Energy Intelligence Committee indicating that Moscow is preparing to resume testing at the Novaya Zemlya testing area. The committee gathers views from different federal agencies on nuclear issues.

Weldon said yesterday that the purpose of his amendment, which drew bipartisan support, was "not intended to accuse Russia of anything," but rather to promote access to nuclear weapons facilities "unlike anything we've had before."

The amendment also reverses a ban on scientific research to develop nuclear weapons that can defeat chemical and biological weapon production and storage facilities.

"No president should have their hands tied by outdated laws that stifle research and development into new technologies that will safeguard us in the future," Weldon said. "The fact is, our adversaries are developing chemical and biological weapons that pose a significant threat to America and our allies."

The new questions about Russia's nuclear testing come just weeks before President Bush is to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin for a May 23-26 summit in Russia where arms control is on the agenda.

Russia has observed a moratorium on full-scale nuclear testing since its last test explosion in October 1990.

Moscow has said it would continue to conduct subcritical test blasts that are not prohibited by the international Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty because they are necessary to ensure the safety of the country's nuclear arsenal. In subcritical experiments, plutonium is blasted with explosives too weak to set off an atomic explosion.

Critics warn that carrying out even limited tests could encourage other countries to conduct full-scale nuclear tests.

Russia ratified the test ban treaty in May 2000. The treaty was signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996. Bush has said he does not support the treaty and will not ask the Senate to approve it, but will not violate it.

The Weldon proposal was approved 362 to 53 as an amendment to legislation that passed the House on Friday authorizing $383 billion in national security spending during the 2003 budget year.

The CIA and State Department had no comment on reports that Russia may be preparing to resume testing. Sean McCormack, spokesman for the National Security Council, said U.S. officials "are concerned that we may not be able to know if any entity were testing in a way designed to avoid detection, and we expect Russia to abide by the testing moratorium it has declared for itself."

© 2002 The Washington Post Company

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