Bush, Major agree to speed humanitarian and technical aid--but not cash

August 30, 1991|By Karen Hosler | Karen Hosler,Sun Staff Correspondent

KENNEBUNKPORT, Maine -- President Bush and British Prime Minister John Major agreed yesterday to speed up plans for humanitarian and technical assistance to the Soviet Union.

But the two leaders continued to insist that cash won't come from the West until the Soviets undertake thorough economic reforms and make deeper cuts in defense spending.

"I understand the wish that there is in some people's minds to do something fresh, entirely different and entirely dramatic," Mr. Major said at a news conference here with Mr. Bush. "But we have to consider what will be practical, what is deliverable and what would actually help."

Bush also prodded Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev again on agreeing to recognize the independence of the three Baltic states, urging him "not to stand against the will of the inevitable."

But he indicated that he would give the Soviet leadership until Monday to act before the United States started the process of opening diplomatic ties with the Baltics.

"We thought it would be best for the stability of the country if they did it themselves," White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said. "Either we'll look for them to decide by Monday, or we'll decide."

Mr. Major, current chairman of the Group of Seven industrialized nations that approved the Soviet aid package at their meeting in London last month, said "lifeline teams" would be dispatched shortly to the Soviet Union to "see what needs to be done."

The teams will meet with officials in the individual Soviet republics as well as the central government to assess the need for emergency food, medicine and other supplies and to help design systems for efficient food distribution there, he said.

Acting along similar lines at a meeting in London yesterday, representatives of the G-7 countries agreed to examine ways to help distribution of food and medicine this winter, while otherwise sticking with their July agreement.

Mr. Bush and Mr. Major also agreed during their nearly two days of meetings to accelerate the process of bringing the Soviet Union into the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank as an associate member so it can quickly receive the benefit of their economic expertise.

This cautious approach, which adds nothing to aid plans already approved, reflects President Bush's insistence that the United States isn't ready to make new financial commitments until he is convinced the money won't be wasted.

"The Soviets have to demonstrate that they have a program that will lead to a market economy, a program that will get them into control," a senior administration official said. As a first step, the Soviets should bring inflation under control by halting the printing of rubles and implement a system of market pricing, the official said.

Mr. Bush is also constrained by U.S. budget limits, under which any new expenditures must be matched by new taxes or a cut somewhere else in the budget.

But he was less than eager to back a proposal by Representative Les Aspin, D-Wis., chairman of the House Armed ServicesCommittee, that $1 billion be cut from the defense budget to send food and medicine to the Soviet Union this winter.

"It's ironic that just a few days ago when this coup was under way, there started a debate about are we spending enough on defense -- almost a 180 [degree turnabout]," Mr. Bush said. "Now the debate comes, well, maybe we've got too much in defense. I'd say let's take a little time and sort this thing out intelligently."

Mr. Major said that another firm condition for Western aid would be deep cuts in Soviet defense spending, which consumes 25 percent of the budget. "We don't expect them to do it overnight," he said. "We expect them to agree to make further defense reductions and to begin to put those in train. I don't think that we could realistically be expected to require less of them."

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