Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin assured President Clinton on Wednesday that he intends to resolve the siege of Russia’s Parliament without using force, and Clinton gave the Russian leader a ringing endorsement, saying that the world should “hang in there” behind him.
Yeltsin’s message was conveyed by Russian Foreign Minister Andrei V. Kozyrev, who met with Clinton for an hour at the White House and said: “There is no intention to use force . . . or to storm the so-called White House (the Parliament building) in Moscow.”
Kozyrev told Clinton that Yeltsin has resolved to avoid using force “as much as possible--unless they are attacked” by gunmen loyal to the Parliament, a senior U.S. official said.
Thus assured, Clinton repeated his strong support for Yeltsin, who dissolved the conservative-dominated Parliament by decree last week and called for new elections.
“I think that the United States and the free world ought to hang in there with a person that is clearly the most committed to democracy and market reform of all the people now operating in Russia,” Clinton told reporters before Kozyrev arrived at the White House.
The President said he approves of Yeltsin’s action in surrounding the Parliament building with troops and praised the Russian government for “restraint.”
“If there were a lot of people armed in there and he was worried about the civil disorder and unrest and people being shot, I think that, when you’re in charge of a government, your first obligation is to try to keep the peace and keep order,” Clinton said. “So I think so far they seem to have acted with restraint but with dispatch in trying to defuse what otherwise might have become a very difficult situation.
“I think so far they’ve done quite well,” he said. “I don’t think that any of us should be here basically armchair-quarterbacking the unfolding events.”
In their meeting, Clinton told the Russian foreign minister that he believes Yeltsin is “on the right side of history” and that the crisis has confirmed that the leaders of Parliament were the “forces of reaction,” a U.S. aide said.
Kozyrev handed Clinton a letter from Yeltsin in which the Russian leader thanked the President for his “immediate and resolute support” and repeated his “firm intention to stick to the schedule of parliamentary elections and presidential elections,” a U.S. official said.
Yeltsin has called for parliamentary elections in December and a presidential election six months later.
Earlier, at the United Nations, Secretary of State Warren Christopher made it clear that Washington’s firm backing for Yeltsin is good only as long as the Russian authorities handle the crisis peacefully and avoid violations of human rights.
Standing next to Christopher after their meeting at the headquarters of Russia’s mission to the United Nations, Kozyrev described the standoff outside Parliament as “our own affair.” But he added quickly: “We will deal with it without the use of force.”
Christopher underlined the commitment: “The foreign minister reiterated President Yeltsin’s statement that the Russian government intends to do everything it can to deal with the current situation not only democratically but peacefully.”
In effect, Christopher staked out a U.S. interest in a peaceful end of the crisis, obtained agreement from Kozyrev and quickly made it public. Now Yeltsin cannot order troops to storm Parliament without knowing that the move will create friction with the United States.
Underlining Russia’s interest in keeping a smooth relationship with Washington, Christopher reminded Kozyrev of Senate passage of a $2.5-billion aid package for Russia and other former Soviet republics. He described the aid as “a strong indication of support of the United States for democracy and market reform in Russia.”
On other issues, Clinton urged Kozyrev to set a date soon for a Russian troop pullout from the Baltic republics of Estonia and Latvia. Congress has passed a law withholding U.S. economic aid from Russia unless a timetable for withdrawal is set by early October.
And he asked the Russian to work with the United States and other Western countries to end conflicts in the former Soviet republics of Georgia, where rebels seized a major city this week, and Azerbaijan, where ethnic Armenian separatists have seized territory.
On a related subject, Kozyrev and Christopher agreed to sponsor a new study to evaluate international peacekeeping programs.
“We have agreed with Secretary Christopher to kind of set up an informal but effective mechanism within the Security Council to draw lessons from both the positive and the negative aspects of peacekeeping cooperation,” including both the abortive Russian operation in Georgia and the stymied U.S. operation in Somalia, Kozyrev said.
Kozyrev rejected charges by Georgian President Eduard A. Shevardnadze that Russia “masterminded” the Abkhazian assault on the city of Sukhumi, which fell to the attackers Monday.
“Shevardnadze is now emotional about the situation and of course it’s tragic,” Kozyrev said of the Georgian leader who once served as Soviet foreign minister.
Kozyrev, in a speech at the United Nations, argued that Russia has a special responsibility to undertake peacekeeping duties in nearby countries that were once ruled from Moscow as part of the Soviet Union.
A senior U.S. official praised the Russian approach and said the Administration does not believe that Kozyrev meant to argue that other powers have no role to play in the area, a view often likened to the Monroe Doctrine under which the United States told European powers to stay out of Latin America.
“He does not see himself as advocating a Monroe Doctrine approach,” the official said. “We don’t see (that) either.”
McManus reported from Washington, and Kempster reported from the United Nations.