President Clinton, declaring that his two-day summit with Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin “laid the foundation for a new democratic partnership between the United States and Russia,” vowed Sunday to stand beside the Kremlin leader in his struggle for reform.
Clinton also outlined a $1.6-billion program of immediate economic aid to Russia and other former Soviet republics, saying, “We are investing today not only in the future of Russia but in the future of America as well.”
Turning to the white-haired Russian leader at a joint news conference concluding the summit, Clinton declared: “Mr. President, our nation will not stand on the sidelines when it comes to democracy and Russia. We know where we stand. We are with Russian democracy, we are with Russian reforms, we are with Russian markets. We support freedom of conscience and speech and religion. We support respect for ethnic minorities. We actively support reform and reformers and you in Russia.”
Going further, Clinton said U.S. interests and values “are embodied by the policies and direction of President Yeltsin.”
Clinton’s endorsement reflected a primary Administration goal for the Vancouver summit: to shore up political support for a leader who is seen as perhaps the last, best hope for Western-style democracy and reform in Russia.
Yeltsin narrowly escaped impeachment by a hostile Congress of People’s Deputies last week and faces a nationwide vote-of-confidence referendum April 25.
The Vancouver summit--with its elaborate staging, deep concern for diplomatic ritual and massive media coverage--could have been seen as merely a last, slightly unreal remnant of the Cold War, a leftover from an era in which the world seemed suspended between hope and terror each time the leaders of the two nuclear superpowers met.
Yet, if neither Moscow nor Washington no longer holds the world in thrall, compelling reasons remained for the importance Clinton and his aides attached to this summit on the northern edge of the Pacific Rim:
Even with the nuclear threat abating, the sheer numbers and explosive diversity of its people give Russia and the former Soviet republics a grave potential for instability and violence; this sobering possibility continues to give U.S.-Russian summits their drama.
On Sunday, as the two leaders exchanged farewells, the gray clouds that had shrouded Vancouver’s spectacular harbor were gone. The sun cast a cold light, as Clinton, thinking of the desperate political struggle Yeltsin faces when he returns home, is reported to have told his Russian counterpart, “I know I can’t vote for you, but I hope you do well.”
And when the young American President’s comment apparently failed to survive a hurried translation, Clinton reduced his hope to a single word: “Win!”
Although Administration sources could not confirm details of the incident, it reflected the poignancy with which Clinton and his aides view a moment in history that they know--for all their boundless self-confidence--they cannot control.
Clinton, who appeared to develop genuine fondness and respect for the Russian leader during the summit, commented that Yeltsin’s “enduring virtue” is that he trusts the Russian people, who “for too long were never given control of their own destiny.”
“Boris Yeltsin has put the faith of the government of Russia into the hands of the people of Russia,” Clinton said. He turned to the Kremlin leader and added, “That is a unique thing in your history.”
The short-term aid package, which officials earlier had described as being closer to $1 billion, was expanded by $700 million to include newly authorized grain sales to Russia. Because the money already has been appropriated by Congress, spending can begin immediately, Clinton said.
The package includes:
* Humanitarian food and medical assistance of $194 million, plus medical grants of $30 million.
* Private-sector support through the Russian-American Enterprise Fund of $50 million; there would be privatization support of $95 million as well as $4 million from the Eurasia Foundation.
* Democratization efforts through a “Democracy Corps"--a grass-roots effort--and other programs, $48 million.
* Resettlement of Russian military officers returning from duty in other parts of the former Soviet Union; there will be a demonstration program to build 450 housing units over the next 12 to 16 months, and $6 million for retraining.
* Energy and environment assistance encompassing support for projects to enhance energy production efficiency and reduce pollution of pipeline systems, $38 million.
* Dismantling of nuclear weapons and facilities and nuclear-warhead storage facilities, $215 million.
Yeltsin, who sees the summit as a potential boost for his campaign to retain power and who plans to campaign full-time until the Russian referendum, declared that he was “fully satisfied” with the results, spirit and atmosphere of the summit.
He said he invited Clinton to pay an official visit to Moscow at his convenience, but Clinton--who has sought to keep the focus on domestic affairs during the early months of his presidency--made no reference to the invitation during the news conference. The final communique of the summit said that Clinton has “accepted the invitation with appreciation.”
Yeltsin asserted that he and Clinton agreed to resolve what the Russian president had referred to as “irritants” in the U.S.-Russia relationship. He said Clinton pledged to move toward lifting Cold War-era restrictions on Russian access to Western technology that could have military applications.
He also said the two leaders had “decided to do away with the Jackson-Vanik Amendment,” a 1970s law that restricted the then-Soviet Union’s trading status because of its limits on Jewish emigration.
Later, Clinton said he agreed only to consult with Congress about lifting the technology transfer restrictions and repeal of Jackson-Vanik. Clinton said he wanted to know for certain whether Russian Jews or other minorities were being denied the right to emigrate before pushing for repeal of Jackson-Vanik.
The President also apologized for a submarine-bumping incident that occurred last month in the Barents Sea off the Russian coast. He said he has asked the Pentagon to review intelligence-gathering operations of the kind the U.S. sub was engaged in and to avoid any further dangerous actions.
“That was a regrettable thing, and I don’t want it to ever happen again,” Clinton said. He noted that Russian Defense Minister Pavel S. Grachev would visit Washington this spring for high-level discussions on “the entire gamut of issues of this sort.”
Clinton said he and Yeltsin discussed “a phenomenal number of issues” and disagreed on several. Among the subjects Clinton said he expressed concern to the Russian leader about was a nuclear power plant under construction by the Russians in Cienfuegos, Cuba. Yeltsin did not comment on the Cuban project but said Russia is proceeding with troop withdrawals from the island.
Such vestigial remnants of the Cold War were clearly the exception at the summit. Both leaders, in long statements lauding the summit’s results, declared that they are giving high priority to increased trade and private investment, bypassing the ossified Russian bureaucracy.
Clinton said at least three-fourths of the aid package, which includes trade concessions and generous terms on loans, “will be distributed not government to government but will go to benefit the private sector.”
As he has before, Clinton emphasized the potential benefits to the United States that aid to Russia may bring. Declaring that the summit “laid the foundation for a new democratic partnership,” Clinton said it is in the “self-interest and high duty of all the world’s democracies to stand by Russia’s democratic reforms in their new hour of reform.”
For 45 years, he said, the United States spent trillions of dollars to contain and deter Soviet communism. But now, with the emergence of a peaceful and democratic Russia, he said it can devote more of its resources to domestic needs.
Clinton said he will consult with Congress on proposals to provide more long-term aid; he expects the United States to do more for Russia in housing and technical assistance, nuclear safety and cooperation on environmental issues.
Administration officials at the summit stressed the importance of trade and investment to long-range efforts to privatize the Russian economy. They pointed out that no coalition of governments could provide the hundreds of billions of dollars those efforts will require in the years ahead. Only private investments can provide resources on that scale, they said.
Clinton and Yeltsin, calling trade and investment a high priority in U.S.-Russia relations, named Vice President Al Gore and Russian Prime Minister Viktor S. Chernomyrdin to co-chair a Commission on Technological Cooperation in energy and space development. Commerce Secretary Ronald H. Brown and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander N. Shokhin were named to co-chair a Business Development Committee on other trade issues.
Clinton also told Yeltsin that the United States would press to have Russia admitted to the GATT world trading system--the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. “We think the long-term goal of drawing Russia into the world is paramount,” a senior Administration official said.
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