WASHINGTON -- The United States, wrestling uncomfortably with Russian threats toward Moldova, pressed President Boris N. Yeltsin yesterday to fulfill his commitment to withdraw his army from the area.
The State Department confirmed that "elements" of the former Soviet 14th Army, now under Russian command, were involved in the fighting alongside ethnic Russians in the Moldovan civil war.
The department spokeswoman, Margaret Tutwiler, said it was unclear in the confused situation whether these elements in fact were taking orders from Moscow; the army said its soldiers were acting on their own initiative.
But their actions appeared to get a public boost Sunday from Mr. Yeltsin, who warned that while Moscow wanted a negotiated settlement, it was prepared to move militarily to protect Moldova's Russian population.
"In this case, we must react to defend people and to stop the bloodshed," Mr. Yeltsin said. "We have the strength to do that."
His statement came four days after Mr. Yeltsin capped a triumphant Washington visit by signing a friendship and partnership charter with the United States calling for peaceful settlement of border disputes in the former Soviet Union.
The charter recognized that any border changes among the former Soviet republics "can be made only by peaceful and consensual means."
Yesterday, Miss Tutwiler said: "We recognize President Yeltsin's concern for the safety of ethnic Russians. At the same time we encourage the Russian government to enter into discussions with Moldova aimed at implementing President Yeltsin's earlier agreement to withdraw the 14th Army from the area." She urged all parties to show restraint.
Mr. Yeltsin's spokesman acknowledged here last week his tendency to adjust his rhetoric to different audiences, and a U.S. official wasn't willing yesterday to suggest that he might have abandoned his pledge.
But the timing of his threat was obviously awkward. Secretary of State James A. Baker III testifies before the Senate today in a push to get last year's strategic arms treaty with Russia ratified.
The Bush administration also hopes the Senate will pass its Russian aid package this week, although action may be delayed by Texas Republican Phil Gramm's effort to link the measure to a Senate vote on a constitutional balanced-budget amendment.
Mr. Baker discussed the Moldovan crisis last week both with Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev and the Moldovan prime minister.