Moscow standoff strains U.S. support for Yeltsin

September 30, 1993|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,Staff Writer

UNITED NATIONS -- American support for Boris N. Yeltsin shows signs of strain even as it gets louder.

In Washington yesterday, President Clinton came out swinging PTC in behalf of the Russian president, insisting that Mr. Yeltsin had kept the peace in Moscow despite "very, very difficult, intense circumstances."

But an edge of worry has crept into subordinates' comments as they constantly check events in Moscow to make sure their proclaimed faith in Mr. Yeltsin is still warranted.

The administration clearly wants to say nothing that would give aid and comfort to Mr. Yeltsin's dwindling number of hard-line opponents, who have all but lost their fight.

At the same time, it is having an increasingly tough time reconciling Mr. Yeltsin's recent actions with his declared intention to proceed peacefully and democratically.

Not only the standoff outside the parliament building but his government's denial of TV air time to opponents seem to undercut his reformist pledges.

In addition, U.S. and its Western allies feel that Mr. Yeltsin would only undercut his own interests by using violence.

The strain was evident yesterday in the sharply different tone of statements delivered in Washington by Mr. Clinton and in New York by Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher.

"I don't think that any of us should be here basically armchair quarterbacking the unfolding events," the president told reporters before meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Andrei V. Kozyrev.

"When I talked to Boris Yeltsin a few days ago, I told him very strongly that I hoped that he would be able to manage this transition in ways that really promoted democracy, respected human rights and kept the peace. And he said that would be exactly his policy. And so far he has done that under very, very difficult, intense circumstances."

Mr. Clinton said he had no reason to disbelieve Mr. Yeltsin's commitment to a peaceful transition, adding: "And I think that the United States and the free world ought to hang in there with a person that is clearly the most committed to democracy and market reform of all the people now operating in Russia.

"Until I have some reason to believe otherwise, I'm going to hang right where we are," he said. "I think we're in the right place."

"If there were a lot of people armed in there and he was worried about civil disorder and unrest and people being shot when you're in charge of a government, your first obligation is to try to keep the peace and keep order," Mr. Clinton said.

"So I think so far they seem to have acted with restraint but with dispatch in trying to defuse what otherwise might have become a very difficult situation."

But earlier in New York, Secretary Christopher was more cautious after voicing concern about the situation in Moscow during a meeting with Mr. Kozyrev at the Russian mission.

Emerging from the meeting, Mr. Kozyrev said of the armed standoff, "It is our own affair and we will deal with it without the use of force."

But the foreign minister said, "There is, at the same time, a need to provide security guarantees so that it does not become an unnecessary source of instability in the city of Moscow."

Mr. Christopher, who had voiced concern Tuesday that human rights be respected, said: "The minister gave me an explanation as to the reason why additional troops were brought in because of the concern of the Moscow authorities."

He did not say if he was satisfied with the reason and made a point of saying that Mr. Kozyrev "reiterated President Yeltsin's statement that the Russian government intends to do everything it can to deal with the current situation not only democratically but peacefully."

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