President Clinton is now likely to attend ceremonies in Moscow commemorating the end of World War II in Europe, White House officials said Friday, after Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin agreed to tone down military pageantry that would have been a painful reminder of Russia's current campaign in Chechnya.
The likelihood of a Moscow summit May 9 marks a sharp shift from the U.S. attitude just a few weeks ago, when Clinton had all but decided against rewarding Yeltsin with a visit because of disputes over Chechnya, Russian support for nuclear development in Iran and continuing friction over the eastward expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Yeltsin told visiting foreign journalists this week that he would meet whatever conditions the White House imposes for a May meeting, including removing all military hardware from a Red Square parade in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Allied victory over fascism.
Yeltsin said Thursday that Clinton expressed a desire to attend the ceremonies but is "a bit concerned about the whole scenario."
Accordingly, Yeltsin said, the parade will include only veterans of what Russia calls the Great Patriotic War and a minimum of martial pomp.
"To put it in a nutshell," Yeltsin said, "we shall meet the (U.S.) conditions."
Clinton said Friday that he appreciates Yeltsin's flexibility and indicated that he plans a decision about "that whole set of issues very shortly."
Until this week, Administration officials had been troubled by what White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry called the "scenario and the theater" of a potential summit with Yeltsin, recognizing that the timing and staging of such events say as much about relations between the two countries as do the leaders' words.
A senior official said Yeltsin's remarks and Clinton's response this week were merely the public manifestations of furious behind-the-scenes wrangling. "There are more issues to be decided than just whether there will be tanks in the parade," the official said. If those are settled, he indicated, Clinton will announce that he will attend the commemorative festivities.
Although Clinton made a commitment last year to meet with Yeltsin in Moscow in the first half of 1995, until recently he had been leaning against accepting the Russian leader's invitation to participate in V-E Day celebrations in Moscow.
Clinton and top Administration officials have criticized Yeltsin's conduct of the war against the Chechen rebels, which has left thousands of civilians dead.