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Yeltsin assures Baker Soviet nuclear arsenal safe

By FRANK T. CSONGOS

MOSCOW -- Russian President Boris Yeltsin assured Secretary of State James Baker Monday that the huge Soviet nuclear arsenal would be under a central command and said he envisoned only the Russian republic retaining these weapons of mass destruction.

Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev said there has not yet been any change in the military command, declaring, 'Everything is the way it should be under the constitution.'

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'I personally feel very reassured,' Baker said of the nuclear assurances after concluding two days of talks in Moscow. He will meet with leaders of Kirghizia, Kazakhstan, Byelorussia and Ukraine before heading to a NATO conference in Brussels, Belgium.

Baker met Yeltsin, Soviet Defense Yevgeny Shaposhnikov, Soviet Interior Minister Viktor Barannikov and other Russian officials for more than four hours in the Kremlin to discuss nuclear weapons and other issues.

The talks lasted two hours longer than scheduled and then Baker went almost immediately into a separate meeting with Gorbachev.

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The presence of the Soviet defense minister and interior minister, who controls federal police, in the Baker-Yeltsin meeting was significant because it indicated a further erosion of Soviet authority in favor of the newly emerging independent republics.

Russian officials have asked the United States for formal diplomatic relations and the leaders of Ukraine, Byelorussia and Kazakhstan also were expected to press Baker for diplomatic recognition.

Yeltsin said Russia, Ukraine and Byelorussia -- the three independent Slavicrepublics that make up a new commonwealth -- would be joined by six more republics by the end of this month.

'There will also be a treay signed -- a defensive alliance treaty -- that would prescribe and provide for a single authority that would exercise command over the armed forces,' Yeltsin said at a joint news conferences with Baker. 'In an emergency, there will be discussions and consultations among the heads of state with the supreme commander in chief of the armed forces participating as well, and the final decision to launch the forces -- or to use them -- may be taken only after consultations.'

Yeltsin said Russia, Byelorussia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan -- the four former Soviet republics that have strategic nuclear weapons on their soil capable of reaching the United States -- would join the Non- Proliferation Treaty that prohibits the spread of nuclear weapons.

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'And three of them would eventually become non-nuclear states with the exception for the time being of Russia,' Yeltsin said.

The Russian leader said nuclear weapons on Ukrainian and Byelorussian soil 'will not be withdrawn to Russia but instead will be eliminated.'

As for Kazakhstan, he said, discussions will be conducted to destroy those weapons as well.

Yeltsin said that Gorbachev would not end up as commander in chief of the armed forces for the new commonwealth.

Asked who would be the person with the finger on the nuclear button, Yeltsin said, 'We haven't discussed a possible candidate for a commander in chief.'

Yeltsin also said the Soviet Ministry of Interior would be abolished.

'We also agreed (with commonswealth republic leaders) on strict export control over possible delivery of -- or leakage of -- nuclear weapons and technology to otther countries and regions,' Yeltsin said. 'We also further agreed to jointly exercise control over all existing nuclear installations ... with a view to achieving maximum safety.'

Baker declined to answer whether he believes the current Soviet defense minister takes his orders from Yeltsin or Gorbachev.

'It is a question that should be directed to those individuals,' he said.NEWLN: more

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