WASHINGTON -- Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney yesterday rejected Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin's proposal for deep cuts in long-range nuclear weapons, warning that the superpowers could create an unsafe situation if they make their nuclear arsenals too small.
Mr. Cheney, striking the Bush administration's first openly skeptical note about Mr. Yeltsin's arms reduction proposals, said he particularly wants to preserve the U.S. nuclear submarine force, one of the targets of the Russian's plan.
"I prefer our proposal," Mr. Cheney said on CNN's "Newsmaker Sunday."
"There's a level there we want to hold at," the secretary said.
Both Mr. Yeltsin and President Bush proposed deep cuts in long-range nuclear weapons last week, but Mr. Yeltsin's plan was more sweeping.
Mr. Bush suggested about a 50 percent cut in the ceilings established in last year's Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, to the range of 3,000 to 3,600 strategic weapons. He specifically urged cuts in long-range missiles with multiple warheads, which U.S. officials consider the most dangerous component of the Russian nuclear force.
Mr. Yeltsin, in response, suggested a deeper cut to the range of 2,000 to 2,500 weapons and urged reductions in nuclear submarine forces -- the area where the United States has the greatest advantage over Russia.
Mr. Cheney criticized Mr. Yeltsin's proposal as cutting so many weapons that it could create an unstable situation.
"It's important, I think, to preserve an adequate level in terms of the number of submarines we have. I think that's stabilizing, not destabilizing," Mr. Cheney said.