Clinton affirms ties to Europe, Moscow's role CLINTON IN EUROPE

January 10, 1994|By Carl M. Cannon | Carl M. Cannon,Staff Writer Writer Paul Martin contributed to this article.

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- President Clinton outlined a vision for Europe yesterday, hoping to reassure old allies and mollify new ones to the east.

But as he spoke at the Hotel de Ville, a 15th-century Gothic castle topped by a 16-foot statue of St. Michael holding his sword atop a vanquished devil, the president reaffirmed a new commitment to an old enemy.

He made it clear that, in the minds of U.S. leaders, if there is a conquered devil, it is the Soviet Union, not the Russian people and the leaders who would reform that country.

Speaking on the eve of his NATO summit here at a time the United States is being besieged by numerous friends and allies in Europe to adopt more pro-active policies, the president said he remains leery of doing anything to undermine Russia's fragile democracy.

"Nowhere is democracy's success more important to us all than in Russia," Mr. Clinton said. "As one Ukrainian legislator recently stated, if Russia is democratic, Europe will be calm."

Mr. Clinton's comments underscored his administration's determined effort to go slow on admitting former Communist bloc nations into the Western alliance. The administration is willing to take the heat this position has prompted because it doesn't want to hand a ready-made rallying cry to Russian hard-liner Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who lead his ultra-nationalist party to surprising election gains last month.

The president has refused to meet Mr. Zhirinovsky when he goes to Moscow later this week, and yesterday took an indirect swipe at him in his speech.

"Pitted against [the Russian reformers] are the grim pretenders to tyranny's dark throne -- the militant nationalists and demagogues who fan suspicions that are ancient and parade the pain of renewal in order to obscure the promise of reform," the president said.

Later, he added: "The results of recent elections in Russia and the statements of some Russian political figures have given us all genuine cause for concern. We must consistently condemn expressions of intolerance and threats of aggression."

But the president counseled patience, if not with people like Mr. Zhirinovski, then with the frustrated Russians who voted for his party.

"The transformation Russia is undertaking is absolutely staggering," he said.

"We cannot expect them to correct overnight three-quarters of a century of repressive leadership, three-quarters of a century of totalitarian policy, or a whole national history in which there was no democracy."

Mr. Clinton also urged Western Europeans to reach out to Russia and the former communist nations of Eastern Europe in an effort to integrate them into a continent of peaceful, market-based democracies.

"It will make little sense for us to applaud their market reforms on the one hand while offering only selective access to our markets on the other," he said.

"That's like inviting someone to a castle and refusing to let down the drawbridge."

After the president's speech, senior White House officials hinted that they are close to a breakthrough on sensitive negotiations with Russia and Ukraine about making Ukraine a nuclear-free nation.

Although U.S. officials said they wouldn't be steamrollered by an "artificial" summit-driven deadline, privately they said they would love to make the announcement while in Moscow. Such an announcement would help Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin and also demonstrate to those back home in the United States how sometimes arcane foreign policy issues directly affect ordinary Americans.

If the agreement is completed in time, officials here said, Mr. Clinton might extend his trip to Kiev, the Ukrainian capital.

"Ukraine has 175 intercontinental ballistic missiles," Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher explained. "They have over 1,000 nuclear warheads on those missiles.

Mr. Clinton arrived in Brussels about 1 p.m. and went to visit King Albert II for a private meeting. He then went to his hotel, reviewed his speech for two hours and proceeded to the old part of the city for an address to young people selected as their continent's future leaders.

A low-key speech

Mr. Clinton's delivery of the much-trumpeted address was strangely low-key and seemed, despite his comments about Russia, unlikely to alleviate criticisms here about U.S. policy toward Europe.

"We, none of us, can be bystanders," the president said.

Few in his audience would disagree, but an increasing number of European officials, particularly the French and the leaders of new East European democracies, are impatient for the United States to be more decisive in helping repair the wreckage left by the end of the Cold War.

Instead, from the standpoint of many here, Mr. Clinton has deferred or shied away from some of the toughest problems and, on two occasions, appeared to minimize the importance of Europe itself, especially in expressing his commitment to Asia.

Cognizant of the impression these remarks created, Mr. Clinton said yesterday: "I came here to say that Europe remains central to the United States."

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