U.S., Russia cement partnership Bush, Yeltsin take summit break on the Chesapeake Schaefer on board to discuss cleanup

June 18, 1992|By Karen Hosler | Karen Hosler,Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS -- Was President Bush trying to give Boris Yeltsin an environmental lesson yesterday or was he simply taking him for a ride?

Mr. Bush wasn't saying, as he provided the Russian president with a personal tour of the federally subsidized Chesapeake Bay cleanup one day after Mr. Yeltsin asked for U.S. help to clean up the Baltic Sea.

After an hourlong cruise, Mr. Bush told reporters only that he and his Russian guest had talked "about worldwide problems" as they sat together on a cushioned platform in the bow of the luxurious, 63-foot Navy yacht.

The environmental lecturer on board was Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who said the idea for the boat ride grew out of a conversation he had with Mr. Bush about the bay cleanup effort. The governor spent the first few minutes of the cruise talking about the joint state-federal campaign to reduce pollution in the bay and adjoining waters.

Like democracy and capitalism, environmental protection is a new concept for the Russians. The former Soviet Union was careless of its air, water and other resources long after the ecology movement hit the rest of the world, and many areas are almost hopelessly polluted.

Now, with the enormous challenge of trying to keep the Russian people fed, clothed and housed during a difficult transition to a free market, Mr. Yeltsin has no money for cleanup efforts.

He didn't even go to the Earth Summit last week in Brazil, where Mr. Bush was sharply criticized because U.S. environmental measures -- though far ahead of the Russians -- were considered by many summit participants to be inadequate.

But the Russian leader asked Mr. Bush for help Tuesday with one potential emergency: removing huge rusting containers of dangerous chemicals he said were dumped in the Baltic Sea 50 years ago by the Germans at the end of World War II.

If the containers are allowed to decay, the world would be threatened with an "ecological catastrophe," Vyacheslaev Kostikov, a spokesman for Mr. Yeltsin, told reporters.

He did not specify the amount or type of chemicals involved but said they were intended for use as weapons.

Mr. Kostikov described the U.S. side as interested in Mr. Yeltsin's proposal for a joint cleanup, but Bush administration officials said a speedy commitment of help seemed doubtful because it would cost money and require Naval forces.

Mr. Bush, who suggested the cruise as a recreational break in the two-day summit with Mr. Yeltsin, is already having trouble getting Congress to back an economic aid package for Russia and other former Soviet republics, and the United States face additional costs in helping dismantle Russia's nuclear arsenal.

Also, Mr. Bush is likely to be reminded -- especially in an electionyear -- that there are plenty of environmental causes that still need financing in this country, including the Chesapeake Bay cleanup, which has cost tens of millions of dollars but will require plenty more.

Yesterday's outing may have helped the cause, however.

The Severn River was chosen by the Bush advance team because its multimillion-dollar mansions along the shoreline would offer prettier scenery than open water of the bay itself.

The temperature was in the mid-80s with a slight breeze. Hazy skies provided some protection from the sun.

According to Mr. Schaefer, the two presidents also put on a little suntan lotion.

"When they got on the boat, first the president takes his tie off right away, and he says to Mr. Yeltsin, 'You get sunburned?' " the governor told the Associated Press.

"So he put it on his nose, and then Mr. Yeltsin put it on his nose," he said.

Sunbathers on a few sailboats that somehow managed to elude the Coast Guard smiled and waved, seemingly unfazed by the four-boat flotilla in the presidential party.

President Bush doffed his jacket and tie and rolled up his shirtsleeves almost as soon as he came on board.

By 30 minutes into the trip, Mr. Yeltsin, too, ripped off his tie with motions exaggerated for the cameras of a nearby press boat.

"A great day on the bay," Mr. Bush proclaimed.

"I'm enjoying it very much."

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