A political economic summit Security concerns: Making the world a little safer for elected presidents.

April 23, 1996

GROUP OF SEVEN summits, for leaders of the free world, were institutionalized for economic purpose. But when these seven leaders got to Moscow last weekend, their purpose was purely political, knowing that development rests on security.

The main accomplishment was to call for a treaty banning nuclear explosions. Now that France has finished with testing, the only nuclear power holdout is China. This was pressure on China to come along, done in the capital of China's biggest rival, in a forum in which China is excluded. It was an exercise in persuasion.

The other accomplishment was to blur the distinction between a member and non-member for the benefit Russian President Boris Yeltsin. He wants to join this club, but Russia is too much in the have-not camp to lead the haves. Beyond that, the summit worried about nuclear weapons without pointing the finger at any nation which might prove lax in security and in sales. Which means Russia.

President Clinton accomplished his goals by ignoring problems that would have defeated agreement. In South Korea, he dealt with the North Korean threat by proposing peace talks, and did not bring up bilateral frictions. In Tokyo, he dragged Japan more openly into a world role and laid the basis for the U.S. remaining in East Asia. Not a cross word was heard about trade.

In Moscow, Mr. Clinton managed bilateral meetings with President Yeltsin that confirmed the importance of each as world statesman. He did not take up the Russian suppression of Chechnya, except to see similarities with the U.S. problem during our Civil War. Mr. Clinton hopes the devil-he-knows will remain Russia's president. Mr. Yeltsin returns the compliment. Most governments prefer incumbents in foreign elections.

All-in-all, Mr. Clinton brought a smoothness, confidence and polish to this foreign policy foray that had been conspicuously lacking the first two years of his presidency. That was a major objective. He looked competent and presidential, which owes as much to avoiding some subjects as to tackling others.

Pub Date: 4/23/96

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