Broader NATO May Bring ‘Cold Peace,’ Yeltsin Warns : Europe: Russian president accuses U.S. of being power hungry. Speech comes as nations finalize nuclear treaty.
Caustically suggesting that Washington wants to run the world, Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin told President Clinton on Monday that a U.S.-led plan to expand NATO threatens to plunge Europe “into a cold peace.”
“History demonstrates that it is a dangerous delusion to suppose that the destinies of continents and of the world community in general can somehow be managed from one single capital,” Yeltsin said in his speech to a summit of the 53-nation Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Yeltsin’s speech rekindled Cold War tensions on a day in which the United States, Russia and three other former Soviet republics finally completed the complex ratification process for the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks treaty signed in 1991 after a decade of U.S.-Soviet negotiations. The treaty requires destruction of almost half of the nuclear weapons in the Washington and Moscow arsenals.
Yeltsin’s outburst--combined with an anguished protest from Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic that the failure of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the United Nations to prevent Serbian aggression in Bosnia-Herzegovina has discredited the United Nations and ruined NATO--struck a discordant note in what otherwise was a bland but optimistic assessment of the past successes and future prospects of the CSCE, an organization of European and North American countries created two decades ago as a Cold War bridge between East and West.
The Russian president spoke immediately after Clinton delivered an upbeat assessment of post-Cold War Europe, saying that the blood-soaked 20th Century can give way to a new century of peace and prosperity.
“The end of the Cold War presents us with the opportunity to fulfill the promise of democracy and freedom,” Clinton said.
But Washington’s chosen instrument for ensuring European security in the 21st Century--a gradual expansion to the East of the 16-nation NATO--drew a blunt rebuke from Yeltsin.
“We hear explanations to the effect that this is allegedly the expansion of stability, just in case there are undesirable developments in Russia,” Yeltsin said sarcastically. “If the objective is to bring NATO up to Russia’s borders, let me say one thing: It is too early to bury a democratic Russia.”
U.S. officials generally offered a low-key response to Yeltsin’s comments. One senior official suggested that the remarks were directed at Russian public opinion, while other officials said that Yeltsin and other Russian leaders take a much more relaxed view of NATO expansion in private than Yeltsin’s speech would imply.
Western European officials also downplayed the harsh implications of Yeltsin’s remarks. “It was very moderate and almost philosophical; it was the minimum that a Russian president would have to say in such a situation,” one German diplomat said.
But Central Europeans knocking eagerly at NATO’s door said they fear that Yeltsin is bent on slowing down, if not stopping, the Atlantic Alliance’s eastward expansion. Without mentioning Russia by name, Polish President Lech Walesa said no country should be given veto power over another country’s application to NATO, sentiments echoed by Clinton in his remarks.
One Central European diplomat said former Warsaw Pact members fear that Yeltsin’s tough talk could introduce a new element of uncertainty into NATO’s expansion plans at a time when the alliance can ill-afford more turmoil.
“He may just want to delay any new members from joining NATO,” a Hungarian diplomat said. “But in this world, when you delay something, who knows what could happen in the meantime?”
Clinton and Yeltsin emphasized cooperation and camaraderie during the separate ceremony marking the final approval of the START I treaty. The pact was signed in 1991 by former President George Bush and former Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev just before the Soviet Union disintegrated.
The effective date of the treaty was held up by the Ukrainian Parliament, which only last month agreed to renounce nuclear weapons and join the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Under a plan worked out in May, 1992, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus--the three non-Russian republics that held Soviet nuclear weaponry--agreed to go non-nuclear, leaving Russia with all of the arms the treaty allowed the Soviet Union to keep. Kazakhstan and Belarus had ratified the agreement earlier.
The final approval of START I clears the way for ratification by the U.S. Senate and the Russian Parliament of START II, signed in 1993, which requires the United States and Russia to reduce total nuclear warheads to no more than 3,500, less than one-third of the Cold War level. Clinton and Yeltsin also agreed to begin negotiations for additional reductions once START II is ratified.
“Today we herald the arrival of a new and safer era,” Clinton said. He said the steps “amount to one great stride to reduce the nuclear threat to ourselves and to our children.”
But U.S. officials said the ceremony had “hung in the balance” until the early hours of Monday morning, when Russia and Ukraine finally worked out a dispute over a provision attached to the treaty by the Ukrainian Parliament.
Clinton spent only about six hours in Budapest before flying home to play host Monday night to a reception for members of the outgoing Democratic Congress. Before heading to the airport, the President met briefly with Bosnia’s Izetbegovic and Croatian President Franjo Tudjman. He also conferred with German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. But U.S. officials said he had no time for a separate meeting with Yeltsin, although the two men chatted during the nuclear arms signing ceremony.
Bosnian officials said Clinton assured Izetbegovic that he would continue to apply pressure on the Bosnian Serbs through NATO. In his speech, Clinton urged the international community not to allow its “frustration over that war to cause us to give up our efforts to end it,” and he again called on the Bosnian Serbs to accept an international peace plan and agree to a cease-fire.
“Settle your differences at the negotiating table, not the battlefield,” Clinton said.
In his public remarks, Izetbegovic issued a stinging rebuke of international efforts to resolve the Bosnian war, saying the conflict is being prolonged because of the incapability, hesitation and ill will of the West.
The Bosnian president, who spoke while Clinton and Yeltsin were out of the room for the signing ceremony, said the war had “discredited” the United Nations, “ruined” NATO and “demoralized” Europeans trying to respond to the Continent’s first post-Cold War crisis.
“There is more than a touch of irony in the fact that in front of this high forum of an organization created 20 years ago, with the aim of security and cooperation, . . . I have to speak about something completely opposite: insecurity and non-cooperation,” he said.
In his speech to the CSCE session, Clinton called for a greater role for the security organization but also described NATO as “the bedrock of security in Europe.” He said the alliance’s decision to expand, perhaps as early as 1996, will enhance security for all of Europe, members and non-members alike.
In an embarrassing slip of the tongue, Clinton described NATO as “an offensive organization.” Officials later told reporters that he meant “defensive.”
But Yeltsin was not convinced. “Russia also expects its security to be taken into account,” Yeltsin said. “We are concerned about the changes that are taking place in NATO. What is this going to mean for Russia? NATO was created during the Cold War. Why sow the seeds of mistrust? After all, we are no longer enemies; we are all partners now.”
As he left the gathering, Yeltsin got a quick lesson in the changed world order. The Russian president, without an overcoat in the afternoon cold, paraded through a throng of reporters and cameramen toward a waiting caravan of official vehicles. Yeltsin moved deliberately toward a shiny new Mercedes, only to discover the car was in fact designated for the Ukrainian delegation.
Yeltsin stepped back on the red carpet and put on his overcoat. Several vehicles picking up the Albanian delegation also passed by before Yeltsin’s caravan arrived.
Must-read stories from the L.A. Times
Get the day's top news with our Today's Headlines newsletter, sent every weekday morning.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.