Clinton calls Bush overly cautious on aid to Russia

April 02, 1992|By Jules Witcover | Jules Witcover,Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- Gov. Bill Clinton claimed credit yesterday for prodding President Bush into finally proposing plans for assisting the former Soviet republics, and offered his support "in convincing the American people and the Congress that this is the necessary course for our country."

In a speech before the Foreign Policy Association, the Arkansas governor said he hoped Mr. Bush's statement "represents not only a declaration of intent, but a commitment to lead on this issue" in the post-Cold War era, just as the United States assumed the role of international leadership after World War II.

The front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination accused the man he would run against of having been "overly cautious on the issue of aid to Russia, not for policy considerations but for political calculations." It was the prodding by himself, by Democrats in Congress, and being "rebuked by Richard Nixon" that finally forced Mr. Bush's hand, he said.

Mr. Clinton charged that "at the very moment America's ideas have triumphed and the whole world is rushing to embrace our way of life, our own leaders have been standing still at home and abroad. In the midst of revolutionary change, they have struggled to shore up a status quo that no longer exists."

He accused Mr. Bush of having "kept America largely on the sidelines in the democratic revolution that toppled the Soviet empire and is transforming the face of world politics." He criticized him for having "aligned the United States with Mikhail Gorbachev's efforts to prop up the stagnant and despised Soviet center" long after the emergence of Boris N. Yeltsin, and for having "poured cold water on Baltic and Ukrainian independence aspirations."

Mr. Bush's foot-dragging, he said, "has invited a new birth of isolationism on the left and the right," and new opposition to foreign aid, at a time of economic crunch at home. But the United States must "respond to one of the greatest security challenges of our time," he said, "to help the people of the former Soviet bloc demilitarize their societies and build free political and economic institutions."

Mr. Clinton called for "bridge loans" rather than "a bailout" for Russia, including a $6 billion fund from Western countries, of which the United States would put up $1 billion, to help stabilize the Russian ruble, on the condition that Russian leaders "rein in public spending and stop excessive printing of money."

He also called for the United States to assume 10 percent of Western loans of $12 billion to enable Russia to import food, medicine and other essentials and to give Moscow "some breathing space for servicing its external debts, at a time when it doesn't have the money to stabilize its currency or import goods." Such aid, he said, "is not an exorbitant price to pay for a chance to create new American markets and anchor a revitalized Russia firmly in the democratic camp."

Speaking a week before the New York Democratic presidential primary, in which Jewish voters cast a sizable portion of primary ballots, Mr. Clinton had particularly harsh words for the attitudes of Mr. Bush and Secretary of State James A. Baker III toward Israel.

While crediting them for getting Middle East peace negotiations started, he charged that "they have chosen to browbeat Israel [over its decision to continue construction of West Bank settlements] while nurturing ties to Syria's despotic regime."

In so doing, he said, the Bush administration "has damaged its ability to act as an honest broker and has encouraged the Arabs to harden their positions in the mistaken belief that Washington can or should deliver Israeli concessions without Arab concessions in return." This conduct, he said, "has damaged our strategic relationship with Israel and undermined the peace process itself."

Last night, in a 25-minute exchange on the "MacNeil-Lehrer NewsHour" on public television, former Gov. Jerry Brown of California joined Mr. Clinton in criticizing Mr. Bush on the Israeli settlements question. Mr. Brown said that while it would be "helpful" to the peace process if Israel halted the settlements, it might send a "false signal" to the Arabs if it appeared that such action was the result of U.S. pressure.

On the purely political front, Mr. Clinton received a notable endorsement when former President Jimmy Carter, after a visit with Mr. Bush at the White House, said he was supporting his fellow Southerner. Mr. Carter sharply criticized Mr. Brown as running a negative campaign criticizing not only Mr. Clinton but the country.

But Mr. Brown got some good political news -- sort of -- in New York. At a large street rally in downtown Manhattan, the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson said for the first time that he "would be honored to serve" if the presidential nominee of his party asked him. He did not specify Mr. Brown by name in that context, though.

The Californian, standing with his hand on Mr. Jackson's shoulder, had just repeated his earlier intention to select Mr. Jackson to be on the ticket with him. In advance of Tuesday's Democratic primary against Mr. Clinton, Mr. Brown was thus bidding for a share of the black vote that in previous primaries has gone heavily for Mr. Clinton.

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