WASHINGTON -- President Bush returned to the foreign affairs arena yesterday -- a place he has not visited much during the political campaign in the face of criticism that he wasn't paying enough attention to domestic issues.
But buoyed by Super Tuesday's primaries that all but assured his nomination, the president appeared yesterday to be more willing to talk again in global terms.
He started by endorsing for the first time an internationally financed effort to help Russia stabilize the ruble and make it convertible to international currencies, signaling that he may be ready to announce U.S. participation later this spring.
Then he stood next to a former White House occupant who has accused him of not being aggressive enough in foreign affairs -- Richard M. Nixon -- and declared that "carrying out a leadership role in determining the course of the emerging world will cost money."
The latter comments were made in a speech prepared for delivery at a Nixon Library dinner given as part of the library's foreign affairs conference in Washington yesterday.
Earlier this week, Mr. Nixon circulated a memo to high-ranking friends and some newspapers harshly criticizing the Bush administration for not giving greater support to the former Soviet Union.
"The stakes are high and we are playing as if it were a penny-ante game," the former president complained.
Mr. Bush's response appeared to be directly aimed at those remarks.
The president told reporters at a news conference yesterday that he is still considering whether the United States will ante up its $2 billion share of a ruble stabilization fund. But administration officials said the announcement is likely to be made when Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin visits Mr. Bush in mid-June.
Creation of the fund to support the value of the ruble and control inflation is seen by most foreign policy experts as a vital step to achieve the transition of Russia's former state-run economy to a market-based system.
"Something is going to happen in terms of stabilization there and with the rest of the world, or we can look, it seems to me, for rather dire results," Senator Richard Lugar, R-Ind, said yesterday.
Mr. Bush has been reluctant to commit himself to such an expensive proposition at a time when U.S. resources are tight and he is under attack from both liberals and conser
vatives for not paying enough attention to the needs of America.
But he returned to overseas issues with the assertion at last night's Nixon dinner that "there is no distinction between how we fare abroad and and how we live at home. Foreign and domestic policy are but two sides of the same coin."
The size of the ruble stabilization fund and how it would be set up remain uncertain. The figure of $6 billion, pooled by the seven major industrialized nations -- known as G-7 -- is widely cited. Of this, the U.S. share could be about $2 billion.
If successful, the fund would never be tapped. It would exist to back up the ruble until Russia develops a sufficient reserve of its own.
But in order for this to happen, officials and economists say, Russia has to commit itself to a series of economic reforms. This is expected to occur as Russia and other former Soviet republics become full members of the International Monetary Fund in late spring.
Mr. Bush and other administration officials continued to argue that U.S. generosity overseas has to be limited.
"There isn't a lot of money around," Mr. Bush said. "We are spending too much as it already is."
Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger warned that other forms of aid, such as direct loans or grants, might amount to "simply throwing money at the situation" and could do more harm than good.
Mr. Eagleburger was responding to renewed attacks from members of Congress who said that Mr. Bush had abdicated foreign policy leadership because of election-year fears that the topic is unpopular.
"The administration has poisoned the well of public sentiment on foreign aid," said Rep. Bill Green, R-N.Y., during a hearing of the House Appropriations foreign aid subcommittee.
"The president has yet to make the case to the public as to how our own nation's interests are served by providing aid to the newly independent states" or by U.S. funding for United Nations peacekeeping or the IMF, Mr. Green said. "Quite the opposite is true."
On another foreign policy issue, Mr. Bush skirted the question of whether he agrees with a Defense Department draft document that argues the United States should take on the role of world protector and resist a collective approach to international security.
"It isn't a clear-cut choice of either/or," he said. "For people who challenge our leadership around the world, they simply do not understand how the world looks to us for leadership."