Yeltsin woos France in NATO dispute President appears frail in meeting with Chirac

February 03, 1997|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

MOSCOW -- Employing the time-tested maxim of divide and vTC conquer, Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin sought yesterday to woo France to the Kremlin's side in a dispute over NATO expansion by praising French President Jacques Chirac's discordant positions within the Western alliance.

Yeltsin, still recovering from quintuple heart bypass surgery and a bout of double pneumonia, looked frail in the brief footage shown on television of his meeting with Chirac, his first foreign visitor since his release from the hospital two weeks ago.

But accounts of the meeting provided by Yeltsin's spokesman, Sergei V. Yastrzhembsky, suggested that the ailing president held up his end in what has become a full-scale Kremlin offensive to dissuade the North Atlantic Treaty Organization from expanding into Eastern Europe without heeding Russia's concerns.

"Yeltsin is extremely satisfied with the results of the talks," Yastrzhembsky told reporters after the Russian and French presidents discussed official business for 75 minutes. A luncheon kept the two leaders together for nearly two more hours.

"Russia's and France's positions coincide on many problems, particularly the problem of European security," Yastrzhembsky said, quoting Yeltsin.

The mini-summit followed harsh warnings about NATO expansion from Kremlin officials taking part in the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, during the weekend. Prime Minister Viktor S. Chernomyrdin conceded that Russia is powerless to veto NATO membership for countries that were once in Moscow's orbit -- Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic are expected to be invited to join this year -- but warned of "the danger and fallacy of this step."

"We have not felt any transformation of NATO so far as compared with the Cold War period when the bloc was established," Chernomyrdin said, suggesting that the alliance is still hostile toward Moscow. "NATO has not shown any new goals, and the advance of this structure to the Russian borders will mean nothing good."

France has expressed more support than other alliance members for the Kremlin's demand for promises that expansion to Eastern Europe would not advance the West's nuclear arsenal to Russia's doorstep.

"I have become convinced that if we try we will be able to reach an agreement between Russia and NATO that would help create an architecture of European security," Chirac told reporters.

Answering reporter's questions about Yeltsin's health, Chirac said: "I am very impressed by his fast recovery after such a difficult operation."

Yeltsin, who turned 66 on Saturday, has spent only 11 days in the Kremlin since his re-election to a new four-year term last July. His absence and recurring illnesses have given ambitious opponents ammunition with which they have sought to portray Yeltsin as too ill and uninvolved to run the country.

Pub Date: 2/03/97

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