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Tuesday, 25 November 1986
Page: 2659

Senator McINTOSH —I direct my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Has the Minister's attention been drawn to recent media reports detailing Soviet initiatives in support of a nuclear weapons free zone in the Baltic Sea region? Does the Minister have any further information on these reports? Is he able to comment on the significance of this in terms of progress on arms control?

Senator GARETH EVANS —The Australian Government, of course, supports nuclear weapons free zone proposals provided they reflect an initiative of, and have the support of, the countries of the region concerned. The idea of a nuclear weapons free zone encompassing the Baltic region is not new. It has been proposed since the 1950s, with regular support and encouragement from the Soviet Union and varying degrees of interest and support from other countries in the region. There have been obvious difficulties inherent in the proximity of the region to the frontiers of strategic nuclear confrontation between the Soviet Union and the West. It is a region, as we of course are all aware, of extensive deployments of nuclear weapons.

It is the case that on 13 November a leading Soviet Politburo member, Yegor Ligachev, is reported to have announced at a Press conference in Helsinki that the Soviet Union was cutting certain nuclear deployments in the neighbourhood of the Nordic region. Press reports from Sweden, however, suggest that the nuclear weapons Mr Ligachev was referring to were withdrawn some time ago in the context of modernisation of Soviet nuclear forces in the area. As to the question of the significance of this in terms of progress in arms control, the Australian Government considers, in line with its view that nuclear weapons free zone proposals should, as I have said, have the support of countries of the region concerned, that this is primarily a matter for the countries of that region to assess.