Clinton, Stepashin establish basis for rapport in meeting

After two-year chill both sides seek warmer U.S.-Russian relationship

June 20, 1999|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

COLOGNE, Germany -- Within hours of an agreement between Russia and the United States on the shape of the international peacekeeping force for Kosovo, President Clinton and Russian Premier Sergei V. Stepashin worked yesterday to ease the chill that has characterized their countries' relations for much of the past two years.

National Security Adviser Samuel R. Berger told reporters afterward that Clinton was impressed by his first meeting with the recently appointed Russian prime minister and that the two leaders had immediately focused on reviving several of the more positive -- but long-dormant -- aspects of Russia's ties with the United States.

Those ties began to cool two years ago, about the time the Clinton administration started pushing the issue of NATO enlargement hard and publicly. NATO's 78-day air campaign against Yugoslavia reduced the chill to a freeze.

The Clinton-Stepashin session unfolded yesterday afternoon in this cathedral city by the Rhine on the fringes of a gathering of leaders from the world's seven leading industrial nations -- the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Japan, Canada and Italy -- plus Russia. The meeting is known as the Group of 8, or G-8, summit.

The eight leaders agreed on a charter titled "Aims and Ambitions for Lifelong Learning." The document, directed at improving the knowledge and skills of people worldwide, is part of an effort to improve both social conditions and the efficiency of the global economy.

The Clinton-Stepashin meeting came on the Russian leader's first trip abroad since he was appointed premier last month. The two reportedly discussed an array of issues, including further reductions in the nuclear arsenals of both countries, the problem of containing nuclear proliferation, and reviving a bilateral U.S.-Russian commission that has been headed by Vice President Al Gore and several of Stepashin's predecessors, beginning with Viktor S. Chernomyrdin.

"It was a very good meeting," concluded Berger. "Stepashin was quite clear in saying that he thinks it's important to move beyond [the tensions of the Kosovo war]."

At a separate news conference, Stepashin also expressed satisfaction with the meeting.

"We've defined how we are going to work, not only in Kosovo but beyond," he said.

Taking everything into account, political analysts believe the path to improved relations will be difficult and uncertain.

One key reason: It will depend heavily on Russia's increasingly imperious president, Boris N. Yeltsin, who was scheduled to arrive today for the summit's finale. Despite his occasionally bizarre behavior, there seems little doubt that he remains in control in Moscow.

Pub Date: 6/20/99

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