WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration came under heightened congressional pressure yesterday to move more swiftly in helping to transform the former Soviet Union.
Members complained about reports of emergency food supplies languishing on U.S. docks; of slowness in developing plans to dismantle Soviet nuclear weapons and to keep watch on its scientists, and of insufficient effort to spur investment and economic reform in the republics.
The effect of the prodding, at three separate congressional hearings, was to undermine administration claims of leadership over efforts to ease the new republics' painful transition to democracy and a free-market economy.
At the same time, senators questioned whether the administration was exerting enough pressure on Russia to halt its continued weapons modernization and biological weapons program.
Senate Armed Services Chairman Sam Nunn, D-Ga., voiced frustration that none of the $400 million voted by Congress last year to help disable, transport and safeguard nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction has been spent.
He also said "so far nothing has happened" to implement a proposal for U.S.-republic military officer exchanges.
Mr. Nunn and members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee pointed to a report in yesterday's Washington Post that humanitarian relief sits on U.S. docks "seemingly hamstrung by logistics and bureaucratic delays," in Mr. Nunn's words.
Put on the defensive, top State Department and Pentagon officials said the United States was close to announcing ways to help the former republics safeguard their weaponry.
Ideas that may be in the final package include: specialized, secure rail cars, modified to fit Russian tracks; large numbers of Kelvar blankets to protect weapons in transit; providing U.S. technology for nuclear weapons storage containers; finding alternate ways of storing plutonium and converting enriched uranium from weapons to reactor fuel.
Plans for employing Soviet scientists to prevent Third World powers from hiring them are less advanced, according to Reginald Bartholemew, undersecretary of state for international security affairs.
Secretary of State James A. Baker III, appearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, acknowledged delays in emergency relief supplies, but said these were being corrected.
Supplies still waiting to be shipped would start to be airlifted in cargo planes, starting on Monday. The administration plans 54 flights covering as many former Soviet republics as possible.
The United States has more ambitious plans to ship vastly greater supplies of Persian Gulf war surplus food over the next several months, officials say.
Much of the food, with a limited shelf life, is now being stored in Pisa, Italy.
Sen. Nancy L. Kassebaum, R-Kan., citing complaints both Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin and Polish President Lech Walesa, questioned whether the United States was doing enough to spur investment in Eastern Europe and Russia:
"There is very little certainty from the American business community about what kind of conditions they can expect and/or assistance even in guiding them to go abroad.
At a House hearing, Rep. Bill Orton, D-Utah, said he was distressed that Europeans are the ones helping republics to develop Western-style economic institutions, and that Europe, and not the United States, could reap the eventual trade benefits.