Clinton defends foreign policy as GOP goes on attack

March 02, 1995|By Carl M. Cannon | Carl M. Cannon,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- President Clinton delivered a spirited defense of his foreign policy last night as it came under attack by Republican rivals, particularly for being too close to Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin.

Mr. Clinton's speech was promoted by aides as a "major" foreign policy address, but yesterday's dueling speeches delivered at the Richard Nixon Center sounded more like the first round of foreign policy debates of the 1996 presidential campaign.

The president offered a detailed recitation of what he believes have been the foreign policy successes of his administration, especially in the area of nuclear disarmament, and sounded a call against those he called "the new isolationists."

"There is a struggle going on between those of us who want to tTC carry on the tradition of American leadership abroad and those who advocate a new isolationism," Mr. Clinton said. "If we are to continue to improve the security and prosperity of all our people, then the tradition of American leadership must prevail."

Earlier in the day, Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas, a likely Republican presidential candidate, suggested in a speech to the conference that the recent bloodshed in the breakaway Russian republic of Chechnya was partially a result of the Clinton foreign policy having been sidetracked by a "misguided devotion" to Mr. Yeltsin.

"It is wrong in 1995 to ignore the fact that President Yeltsin has made serious errors, has moved toward authoritarian rule and has lost the political support of virtually all reform-minded Russians," Mr. Dole said.

"The Clinton administration's misguided devotion to a 'Russia-first' policy, which has turned into a 'Yeltsin-first' policy, resulted in the loss of a tremendous opportunity to state American concerns forcefully, before thousands were slaughtered in Chechnya."

In his address, delivered after Mr. Dole and other prominent GOP figures had spoken, Mr. Clinton did not respond directly to Republican criticism.

Instead, he used the occasion to point with pride at key themes in his foreign policy record:

* The broad-based efforts his administration has taken to reduce nuclear proliferation and the threat of nuclear war.

These include symbolic steps, such as the "de-targeting" of civilianpopulations by both Russian and U.S. military leaders and his announcement last night that he has ordered that some 200 tons of bomb-producing material -- enriched uranium and plutonium -- be taken out of the military stockpiles.

Mr. Clinton said the material would otherwise be "enough for thousands of nuclear weapons."

The steps also include more tangible measures, such as securing agreements with the former Soviet republics of Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan to dismantle and ship their nuclear arsenals back to Russia.

Another is the dismantling of nuclear weapons in Russia and the United States ahead of the schedules demanded by treaty agreements and an indefinite extension of the 25-year-old Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

* The decisive and speedy action by his administration that prevented bloodshed or the spreading of a crisis. Mr. Clinton pointed proudly to the restoration of democracy in Haiti, done with the one-two punch of American diplomacy and American military might.

He also cited the retreat of Iraqi troops from the border of Kuwait in the face of a swift U.S. military mobilization to the Persian Gulf region.

"We have seized the opportunities and met the obligations of engagement," Mr. Clinton said.

* How expansion of free markets around the world is a major part of foreign policy in the post-Cold War world. Mr. Clinton citied the initiatives to broaden world trade that he has negotiated or seen through.

These include the North American Free Trade Agreement, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, and increasing economic ties with Asia.

Mr. Clinton pointed to expanding U.S. trade figures -- and the increased export-related jobs they have generated in the United States -- as a way of saying these were good agreements for the United States.

Much of the criticism that the president took over these measures came from within the Democratic Party, a point Mr. Clinton alluded to last night by saying that "the new isolationism . . . cuts across party and ideological lines."

Nevertheless, the most spirited challenges this year to administration foreign policy have come from House Republicans. They are pushing a series of proposals ranging from withdrawing U.S. troops from any subservient role in United Nations peacekeeping efforts to slashing foreign aid budgets.

And despite his bipartisan tone, Mr. Clinton left little doubt that he is opposed to this Republican agenda.

"The new isolationists, both on the left and the right, would radically revise the fundamentals of our foreign policy that have earned bipartisan support since World War II," he said.

"They would eliminate any meaningful role for the United Nations . . . would deny resources to our peacekeepers and even to our troops and squander them on 'star wars.' And they would refuse aid to fledgling democracies."

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