After a phone call to Yeltsin, Clinton gives Russian leader his full support

September 22, 1993|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- President Clinton threw his full support behind Boris N. Yeltsin yesterday after being personally assured by Russia's president that his decision to dissolve Parliament was aimed at strengthening reform.

In effect, the United States declared that Mr. Yeltsin's objective -- progress to a free-market democracy -- justified his decision to suspend an obstructionist Parliament and call for elections.

"In a democracy, the people should finally decide the issues that are at the heart of political and social debate. President Yeltsin has made this choice, and I support him fully," Mr. Clinton said in a prepared statement.

After a 17-minute phone call yesterday afternoon from a White House study, Mr. Clinton said he was assured by Mr. Yeltsin that "the difficult choices that he faces will be made in a way that ensures peace, stability and an open political process this autumn. He told me that it is of the utmost importance that the elections he has called be organized and held on a democratic and free basis."

Mr. Clinton characterized Mr. Yeltsin's action as a response to "a constitutional crisis that had reached a critical impasse and had paralyzed the political process," and said that elections for a new Russian legislature are "ultimately consistent" with Mr. Yeltsin's program for reforms.

"I have confidence in the abiding wisdom of the Russian people to make the right decision regarding their own future," the Clinton statement said.

A senior administration official later said, "President Clinton is convinced that President Yeltsin did what he felt he had to do in order to break this impasse."

Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher, in a statement similar to the president's, said he had urged congressional leaders to move rapidly in appropriating about $2.5 billion now pending to aid Russia and other former Soviet states.

The reasons for backing Russian aid, he said, are now "even stronger."

Mr. Christopher declined to be drawn into a discussion of whether Mr. Yeltsin's action was allowable under the Russian Constitution, although another senior official noted that the constitution dated from 1978, during the Soviet era.

Mr. Christopher said Mr. Yeltsin's plan for parliamentary elections in December was consistent with the wishes expressed by the Russian electorate in a referendum held April 25, when it backed Mr. Yeltsin's reform plans.

Mr. Christopher stressed that Mr. Clinton wanted assurances that the Russian president was committed to democratic elections.

The president's statement was consistent with his policy, throughout his first eight months in office, of strongly backing the Russian president, in the belief that Mr. Yeltsin's instincts are those of a true reformer.

The administration firmly believes that Mr. Yeltsin, as Russia's first democratically elected president, is the key to a long-term peaceful relationship with Russia that will allow the United States to avoid a revived military buildup.

A senior official familiar with the president's phone conversation with Mr. Yeltsin said the Russian assured the president that the pace of reform would increase as a result of his actions.

The United States got its first clear word of the change about an hour before Mr. Yeltsin's televised speech yesterday, after U.S. Ambassador Thomas Pickering was summoned, along with other ambassadors in Moscow, to be told Mr. Yeltsin's plans.

However, Mr. Christopher told aides he had gotten an inkling of what was to happen last week from Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev, who was in Washington for the signing of the Israeli-Palestinian peace accord.

"It was a very quick aside . . . the secretary knew he was being given a heads-up," a senior State Department official said.

But without clear warning, the administration was caught in the embarrassing position yesterday of trying to persuade Congress that reports of economic and political chaos in Russia were somewhat overblown.

Toward the end of lengthy and upbeat testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Strobe Talbott, the president's special envoy to nations of the former Soviet Union, announced that he had been summoned to the White House "to brief the president on the situation in Moscow."

Earlier, he had said, "There are, of course, noisy squabbles in Russia, Ukraine, and elsewhere between presidents and parliaments, but those squabbles are taking place precisely because real politics with open elections and secret ballots has replaced autocracy and terror."

U.S. officials said that they had heard nothing to suggest that Mr. Yeltsin's safety was in danger. The Russian's voice and manner over the phone conveyed "considerable strength, robustness, confidence and optimism," said the senior administration official.

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