The U.S.-Russian Alliance

June 18, 1992

In the U.S. Capitol, before a joint session of Congress, against the backdrop of an American flag, the president of a Russia striving for democracy denounced his Communist heritage in words so bitter, so deeply felt, that they overshadowed decades of Cold War rhetoric heard from American legislators in that very chamber. Spectacle is indeed a powerful ingredient in the affairs of nations, and yesterday's address by Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin (see page opposite) symbolized his extraordinary campaign to join the free world.

Later, down Pennsylvania Avenue at the White House, Mr. Yeltsin and President Bush signed seven agreements that would have seemed sheer fantasy not so long ago. Not only did they approve the most sweeping strategic arms reduction of the nuclear age; they agreed on conditions of friendship that that might even include joint military maneuvers, at last put their commercial trading ties on a normal basis and opened the doors to potentially immense U.S. private investment.

Much of this ceremony was aimed at goading the lawmakers who cheered Mr. Yeltsin so lustily into passing a "Freedom Support Act" that is essential in releasing $24 billion in International Monetary Funds to shore up the ruble as Russia converts joltingly to a market economy. But Mr. Bush was denied his hope for congressional approval while Mr. Yeltsin was in Washington. Election-year politics decrees that Democrats will use what leverage they have to link the Russian aid proposal with increased assistance for troubled American cities.

The most poignant and unchoreographed aspect of the Washington summit was Mr. Yeltsin's revelation that he is trying to find out if any American prisoners of war transferred from Korea or Vietnam, or captured during various Cold War episodes, might still be alive after being held for years in Soviet jails. For years his predecessors, including Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, had denied any knowledge of this whole question. But Mr. Yeltsin proclaimed: "There will be no more lies, ever."

His disclosures at first had the perverse effect of inspiring some legislators, particularly on the Republican side, to hold the Russian aid package hostage until more information on POWs was available. But when Mr. Yeltsin departed from text to tell his audience twice that he did not understand their tactics, this particular pretext for opposing the Freedom Support Act evaporated.

We believe the legislation should be passed promptly not because $24 billion can save Russia and other former Soviet states -- Mr. Yeltsin said it cannot -- but because its delay can make a sham of everything the summit was designed to accomplish. For more than four decades, the United States and the old Soviet Union were superpowers whose global sway depended on opposing nuclear arsenals easily capable of destroying civilization. Now this country and Russia face the happier challenge of promoting world stability through the instruments of peace and understanding.

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