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SS-23 missiles must be eliminated, US government tells Slovak officials

Less than two months after NATO Madrid summit, American government officials have asked the Slovak government to liquidate its stock of SS-23 missiles. Two days after senior Slovak officials denied having received any official request, the United States Embassy in Slovakia reiterated the request, seen by some as the first concrete result of Slovakia's exclusion from the first round of NATO expansion.
Thanks to a Soviet ploy ten years ago, the Slovak Army is still in possession of six highly sophisticated SS-23 missiles that can carry nuclear warheads and have a range of 500 kilometers. The United States Embassy in Slovakia said in a press release on August 21 that the SS-23 was classified as a "mass destruction weapons carrier", and that its worldwide limitation was "one of the US Administration's top priorities."

Less than two months after NATO Madrid summit, American government officials have asked the Slovak government to liquidate its stock of SS-23 missiles. Two days after senior Slovak officials denied having received any official request, the United States Embassy in Slovakia reiterated the request, seen by some as the first concrete result of Slovakia's exclusion from the first round of NATO expansion.

Thanks to a Soviet ploy ten years ago, the Slovak Army is still in possession of six highly sophisticated SS-23 missiles that can carry nuclear warheads and have a range of 500 kilometers. The United States Embassy in Slovakia said in a press release on August 21 that the SS-23 was classified as a "mass destruction weapons carrier", and that its worldwide limitation was "one of the US Administration's top priorities."

According to the release, "we have spoken to the country's major officials about the importance of dismantling SS-23 missiles in Slovakia." But Slovak Premier Vladimír Mečiar's spokesperson, Magda Pospíšilová, told a press conference on August 19 that "neither the Slovak government nor the Foreign Affairs Ministry have any information regarding the alleged request."

Under the 1987 START 2 agreement between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, the two cold warriors were to reduce their stocks of short and medium range missiles. The Soviets pushed hard for American Pershing 1A missiles stationed on German soil to be included in arms cuts. At the same time, the U.S. has since discovered, the Soviets were concealing 72 SS-23 missiles that they had sold to Eastern European countries, and that did not appear on official weapons counts. Six of those undisclosed missiles are now in the hands of the Slovak military.

The Slovak government is maintaining that until now the Americans have not come out with a formal diplomatic request to eliminate the missiles. Milan Tokár, the Slovak Foreign Ministry spokesman, said on August 21 that the SS-23 question "is the subject of long term bilateral negotiations" between Slovak and American specialists. He added that since the last round of talks in October 1996, "the U.S. government has not asked its Slovak counterpart to continue them."

Members of the political opposition in Slovakia, however, do not see the confusion as harmless. "It's not a question of military or defense strategy - it is worsening the image of Slovakia in the world," asserted Ján Langoš, the Democratic Party (DS) chairman.

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