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U.S. seeks assurances from Soviets on nuclear weapons

By FRANK T. CSONGOS

WASHINGTON, Dec. 14, 1991 (UPI) - Secretary of State James Baker says that while there is no present danger, he will seek new assurances from leaders of the disintegrating Soviet Union that thousands of nuclear weapons are kept under firm control through a unified command.

Baker, who leaves Washington Saturday night to visit Russia, Ukraine, Byelorussia, Kazakhstan and Kirghizia, told a White House news conference Friday that the United States does not see an increased nuclear threat because of the rapid collapse of Soviet central authority.

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''We have seen no evidence of any changes in the command and control arrangements that alarm us,'' Baker said. ''At the same time, it is a very important issue that really does need to be addressed and addressed with some specificity at a time when we're seeing these remarkable transformations taking place.''

''We are going to be looking for a reaffirmation of assurances that we already have been given,'' he said. ''We are going to be seeking to determine if final arrangements and agreements (between the republics, the military and the center) have been entered into.''

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Baker said the United States has a national security interest in seeing that the transformation of the former Soviet Union ''takes place in a manner that does not increase the risk from the nuclear standpoint. ''

Baker disclosed that President Bush received a 25-minute call Friday from Russian President Boris Yeltsin, who discussed the status of the new commonwealth.

Yeltsin said he expects other republics to be joining in the agreement that was reached between the three Slavic republics of Russia, Ukraine and Byelorussia, Baker reported.

The Bush-Yeltsin telephone conversation underscored the administration's recognition that Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's authority is fading fast.

Bush said earlier Friday the United States, which is trying to arrange a worldwide humanitarian effort to help the Soviet peoples, will back reformers and democratic forces in the disintegrating country ''whoever they are, wherever they are.''

The president said the administration is watching the rapidly changing situation in the Soviet Union ''very closely'' and that ''we're in close contact with the different factions.''

But at a White House picture-taking session, Bush declined comment on the apparent end of Gorbachev's central government, saying ''this is not a helpful time to editorialize on personalities'' in the Soviet Union.

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The president said a major U.S. goal is to make sure Soviet nuclear weapons are handled ''with ultimate maximum amount of safety and the assurances from the republics and the center have been very good on that, incidentally.''

At the news conference, Baker repeated Bush's contention that ''it is not helpful or useful to be commenting on personalities in the republics or in the former Soviet Union or in the Soviet Union ... because this is a political process that is going on there and it is an internal matter that we really should not involve ourselves in.''

Asked if the administration is dealing now exclusively with Yeltsin, Baker said, ''Not at all. Not at all. I point out to you that Yeltsin is also dealing with Gorbachev. We will see Gorbachev during the course of this trip, and (Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard) Shevardnadze.

''We continue to have discussions with those gentlemen and so you should not jump to the conclusion here that somehow we are making a determination and injecting ourselves into this process.''

In a speech at Princeton University Thursday, Baker issued a ''call to action for America and the West'' and said an international conference would be convened in Washington early next month to discuss ways to help the Soviets.

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Baker explained Friday the gathering is to be a ''coordinating'' effort of ''what is already significant pledges of humanitarian and other types of economic assistance'' to the former Soviet Union and to the republics.

''So the purpose here is not to conduct a pledging session, but to call to arms, if you will, the international community to address what is a very, very substantial transformation that has the capability of affecting the rest of the world,'' Baker said.

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