Yeltsin arrives to discuss better U.S.-Russian ties

June 19, 1991|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Boris N. Yeltsin, basking in his historic triumph as Russia's president-elect, arrived here yesterday with the aim of launching a "direct dialogue" with the United States, suggesting this should strengthen, rather than undermine, stronger U.S.-Soviet ties.

His visit promises to heighten debate here about the extent to which the United States should work with individual Soviet republics, as opposed to the central Kremlin government, in encouraging economic and political reform.

The White House, while saying President Bush would spend an hour with Mr. Yeltsin in the Oval Office tomorrow afternoon, made clear that relations with the Kremlin remained paramount. And Secretary of State James A. Baker III, in a Berlin speech, offered the Kremlin stronger ties with the West, provided it pursued free-market reforms.

"I hope President [Mikhail S.] Gorbachev now brings forward a new effort at serious market reform that will enable us to advance perestroika," Mr. Baker said. "The door to the Euro-Atlantic community is open, but only the Soviets can decide to step over the threshold."

But the inevitable change in relations wrought by Mr. Yeltsin's election victory was underscored by Senate Minority Leader Bob jTC Dole, R-Kan., who said on welcoming Mr. Yeltsin at Andrews Air Force Base: "You come with a unique authority -- you can truly speak not only as the representative of your government, but also as the voice of your people."

The visit, he said, demonstrates "the new reality of the Soviet Union and the Russian republic, a reality that we are perhaps a bit belatedly coming to accept."

Mr. Yeltsin was careful not to undermine U.S.-Soviet ties while seeking a new relationship between Washington and his republic.

"We expect this visit to launch a direct dialogue between Russia and the United States in the interests of stronger and stable interaction between the U.S.S.R. and the United States and in the interests of positive processes throughout the world," Mr. Yeltsin said.

His visit, as a guest of the Senate majority and minority leaders, stands in sharp contrast to his 1989 tour, when he was denied an Oval Office meeting with President Bush, drew derisive comments from U.S. officials and was dogged by rumors of heavy drinking.

But his new stature posed a protocol dilemma for the Bush administration. Legally, he is the equivalent of a U.S. governor, officials said. Thus, the highest executive-branch official to greet him was a deputy assistant secretary of state.

But citing the potential security threat that his fame commands, the United States allowed his Aeroflot jet to land at Andrews and equipped him with heavy protection, which gives him a motorcade befitting a visiting head of state.

In his meeting with President Bush, "our role is primarily to hear his views," said White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater, adding, "Our relationship has been with the central government of the Soviet Union for the last 40-some years, and that's the way it will remain."

Another U.S. official said, "What we want more than anything is to hear how he plans to use his power and his mandate to move reform ahead, how he plans to work with other governments in the union and to cooperate with Gorbachev, and how much he will move ahead on his own."

The visit comes as the United States and its major industrial allies are grappling with how to encourage Soviet economic reforms, amid roiling Kremlin debate over how far and how fast to move.

Mr. Baker, in his Berlin speech, offered highlights of an economic package in the works that would provide a variety of technical assistance but avoid large-scale direct aid.

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