Strauss assails Congress for failing to aid Soviets

November 19, 1991|By Kathy Lally | Kathy Lally,Moscow Bureau of The Sun

MOSCOW -- U.S. Ambassador Robert S. Strauss broke his public silence on aid to the faltering Soviet Union yesterday, saying it was "outrageous" that Congress had backed off a plan to spend $1 billion from the defense budget on humanitarian aid.

Bolstering the Soviet Union now, he said, could make the difference between unparalleled peace and prosperity for the world and a fascist society that would once again threaten U.S. interests.

Mr. Strauss, a wealthy businessman and man of influence in Washington, said he will draw on his substantial political capital to fight hard for aid to the economically desperate Soviet Union.

"I've got problems both with my bosses [the Republicans] and with my political allies, the Democrats," he said, asserting that at 73 years of age he has no need of niceties, only to do his job and retire.

Mr. Strauss said he hopes the Soviet Union can work out a plan to defer payment of principal on its foreign debt. The Soviet Union owes $68 billion and is desperately short of cash to pay it.

The deputy finance ministers of the countries known as the Group of 7 -- the United States, Japan, Germany, Britain, France, Canada and Italy -- meeting in Moscow yesterday in an attempt to help the Soviet Union solve its foreign debt crisis threatened yesterday to cut off all credits to the 12 Soviet republics if they failed to agree jointly to repay existing debt, the independent Postfactum news agency said.

The agency reported that the G-7 ministers told representatives of the republics that they must all sign an agreement on repayment of the foreign debt by 11 a.m. today.

Mr. Strauss did not address the threat, but he said he favored deferral.

"I personally think a deferral is in everybody's best interest," Mr. Strauss said. "Failure to defer doesn't save money, it costs money."

Mr. Strauss, who in public has kept his opinions to himself since he arrived as ambassador at the end of the summer, said he will visit the United States in early December and begin lobbying for aid.

He said he feared food riots and a susceptibility to some sort of despotic rule if the Soviet Union does not receive food supplies to get through the winter. "We can see the greatest chance for peace and prosperity we've ever seen," he said. "I'd rather risk a couple of billion bucks out here and say it failed to work instead of looking at a fascist situation and saying, 'My God, if we had just spent a couple of billion bucks we could have done something.' "

Mr. Strauss, who invited a dozen reporters to lunch yesterday, spoke colorfully about his first months here, combining self-deprecation with self-approval.

"I spend most of my time in frustration," he said. "But every once in a while I can say, 'Goddamn, it's a good thing you're here.' "

Those occasions arise, he said, when something needs to be done quickly and he can get the president on the phone in two minutes.

He had plenty to say yesterday on the subject of the proposal to spend $1 billion from the U.S. defense budget on humanitarian aid for the Soviet Union. The plan died in Congress last week.

"It's a goddamn outrage," he said, with equal anger for Republicans and his fellow Democrats. "We could have really done something with that."

I know it's hard for the American public to realize it's a good investment of a modest amount of taxpayers' money," Mr. Strauss said. "But I personally think if we're prudent and spend it cautiously on humanitarian aid and technical assistance, the American taxpayer gets a hell of a value for his dollar . . . and it sure can blow up in our face in the next six months."

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