Bush was happy to dance to the tune called by Yeltsin THE SOVIET CRISIS

August 22, 1991|By Karen Hosler | Karen Hosler,Sun Staff Correspondent

KENNEBUNKPORT, Maine -- The president of the United States danced to Boris N. Yeltsin's choreography for three days, and he seemed happy to oblige. After all, the "new world order" was at stake.

From their initial contact on the first day of the coup against Mikhail S. Gorbachev to its final hours yesterday morning, Mr. Bush acceded completely to Mr. Yeltsin's requests and followed to the letter his instructions on how the U.S. president could be most helpful.

After Mr. Yeltsin, president of the Russian Federation, sent TC note through diplomatic channels Monday asking Mr. Bush not to do anything to lend legitimacy to the military takeover, the president issued a strong statement calling the ouster of Mr. Gorbachev illegal and refusing to recognize the men who had overthrown him.

At a news conference the next morning after a telephone conversation with Mr. Yeltsin, Mr. Bush reinforced the message, saying he wanted to encourage the Russian president and others resisting the coup "in every way we can."

Yesterday morning, after Mr. Yeltsin called the president's vacation home here to report that the military threat had not ended, Mr. Bush hurriedly arranged another news conference to offer another strong statement of support. He said Mr. Yeltsin had pleaded with him to do so.

"The president brought all the pressure to bear that the West has to offer," said White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater. "He did it because Yeltsin asked and because he also thought it was in the best interests of the U.S. and its allies.

"Our interests and Yeltsin's interests were the same. I think that's a factor the coup plotters didn't take into account."

The partnership in crisis with Mr. Yeltsin -- as well as what Mr. Bush called the Russian president's courageous leadership in resisting the military takeover -- gives a big boost to the already growing esteem in which Mr. Yeltsin is held by U.S. officials.

"He stands 10 feet tall today," Mr. Fitzwater said of Mr. Yeltsin.

But Mr. Yeltsin's elevated stature might further complicate Mr. Bush's relations with Mr. Gorbachev as the Soviet leader moves to reassert himself in his own country and as a world leader, U.S. officials say.

Mr. Bush was careful never to speak of Mr. Gorbachev in the past tense during the crisis and eagerly reported on his emotional phone conversa

tion yesterday with the Soviet leader, whom he had been trying to reach for days.

Mr. Gorbachev placed the call before his return to Moscow from the vacation spot in the Crimea where he had been held by his opponents.

President Bush was on his speedboat, Fidelity, when a military aide radioed that "a head of state" was on the line. Mr. Bush raced back to his vacation home to take the call jointly with his wife, Barbara.

"He sounded in good physical condition; indeed, his voice was buoyant," Mr. Bush said of Mr. Gorbachev, who supposedly was deposed because of ill health. "I think people know of my respect for Gorbachev . . . the way I feel about him. I just was delighted to hear that he was fine, delighted that he appeared to be well."

The president said that the Soviet leader thanked the people of the United States and others around the world for their support and that "he was back fulfilling his duties and calling the shots."

The end of the crisis came as a relief to Mr. Bush, who expects U.S.-Soviet relations to be even better now that the last gasp of hard-line communism seems to have ended.

Now that the Soviet people's commitment to democracy seems clear, White House officials say, they also expect stronger political support in the United States for the aid to the Soviet Union that Mr. Gorbachev has been seeking.

Mr. Bush said at a news conference that he would urge Mr. Gorbachev to "stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Yeltsin" in overseeing the evolution of "democracy and perestroika and glasnost in the Soviet Union."

That ascribes national leadership status to an outspoken and volatile politician privately regarded by the White House until last year as unreliable at best and a potentially dangerous rival to Mr. Gorbachev at worst.

"I don't detect any less flamboyance," Mr. Bush said yesterday of Mr. Yeltsin. But he added that Mr. Yeltsin's election earlier this year as the first popularly chosen president of Russia was "a significant turning point for the way regimes all around the world . . . look at Mr. Yeltsin."

Mr. Yeltsin's actions during the coup pushed his international standing "a quantum leap forward," Mr. Bush said.

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