Soviets lower sights on aid as summit opens

July 16, 1991|By Richard O'Mara | Richard O'Mara,London Bureau of The Sun

LONDON -- Stung by the cool reception given a preview of its plans for economic revitalization, the Soviet Union appeared to be lowering its expectations of Western assistance yesterday, even before President Mikhail S. Gorbachev makes his pitch for it to the leaders of the world's seven wealthiest industrialized countries meeting here.

A massive infusion of immediate funds for the depressed Soviet economy appeared unlikely, but the Group of Seven did decide to at least make a strong statement of support for Mr. Gorbachev's economic and political reforms, a British official said.

The statement was agreed upon during the G-7 leaders' dinner yesterday and is scheduled to be released this morning, the official said in a news briefing. It also will urge Mr. Gorbachev not to ignore the democratic aspirations of breakaway Baltic republics and not to resort to force, the official said.

The 17th annual economic summit opened with President Bush and the leaders of Britain, France, Italy, Germany, Canada and Japan determined to discuss trade, debt relief, control of weapons sales, the environment and drug trafficking. But the Soviets, though not official participants, weighed heavily in the deliberations.

In addition to remarks about Mr. Gorbachev's meeting with the G-7 tomorrow, a Soviet spokesman also marked out a strong position against the U.S. readiness to use military force to make Iraq comply with the United Nations' demands that it be allowed to inspect Iraqi nuclear facilities.

And the possibility of a U.S.-Soviet summit later this month in Moscow to sign a treaty limiting long-range nuclear missiles grew less certain yesterday.

White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater, asked whether a summit might be held despite a hang-up on one technical point in the START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) negotiations, said, "The president had been quite clear that we would not be interested in a summit if we did not have a START treaty. And I think at this point we don't have a START treaty; it's unlikely that we'll have a summit."

Mr. Fitzwater did not rule out a last-minute breakthrough, however.

Negotiators in Washington stalled Sunday on a technical question, the last sticking point in nearly 10 years of talks, involving missile throw weights, which determine what they can carry. The dispute affects the introduction of newer missiles to the Soviet arsenal.

Mr. Fitzwater said the United States was making progress in gathering support for its tough line against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, possibly for air strikes against concealed nuclear facilities.

"The overall feeling that this is a legitimate concern and one in which we should consider all options is one that is shared by virtually everyone," he said.

Mr. Bush has received an endorsement for military action against Iraq from French President Francois Mitterrand and weaker approval from the Japanese. The British are also on his side.

Mr. Fitzwater said the administration hoped the Soviets would provide the "same kind of support and understanding they've shown throughout this affair."

But Vitaly Ignatenko, Mr. Gorbachev's spokesman, seemed to rule out Soviet support for bombing raids. "Our position is that we want to see all avenues pursued to influence Hussein, excluding military action," he said.

The opening deliberations of the summit began under a cloudy sky as the prime ministers and presidents made their way to Lancaster House, just off The Mall running up to Buckingham Palace.

The leaders convened their first session in the Music Room, where Chopin once played for Queen Victoria. The host of the summit, British Prime Minister John Major, opened the deliberations about 2:15 p.m.

President Bush, in his initial presentation, stressed the need to .. find a breakthrough in the Uruguay Round trade talks on the matter of agriculture subsidies. The United States seeks to make U.S. products more competitive by reducing subsidies on farm products, which puts it at odds with the European countries.

Earlier in the day, Mr. Ignatenko said at a crowded news conference at the Soviet Embassy that interpretations of an economic plan outlined in a 23-page letter sent to summit leaders by Mr. Gorbachev late last week were exaggerated.

So were the expectations of how far the Soviets could go in reforming their economy and how much assistance they expect to get, he said.

Some G-7 leaders criticized the Gorbachev proposals, as outlined in his letter, for not moving the Soviet Union far enough toward a market economy. That is the position of the United States and Japan, the only country among the seven with the ready capital to provide the kind of aid -- up to $35 billion -- that the Soviets have suggested.

Vladimir Scherbakov, the Soviet minister for the economy, accepted the criticism as "not exactly unjustified" but added, "It would be naive for us to assume that a nation could live for 73 years in one economic system and go to bed one night and wake up in another."

Looking ahead to a possible disappointing outcome for Mr. Gorbachev at the summit, Mr. Ignatenko said, "We are not going to backtrack. We will go it alone if we have to. The pace of reforms may be slowed down, but we shall go ahead."

Asked what might happen if the West turns Mr. Gorbachev down cold, Mr. Scherbakov again raised the specter of chaos and violence in the world's largest country.

"If we don't achieve close cooperation, then there could be turmoil, not only in the Soviet Union but elsewhere -- turmoil in the whole world," he said.

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