Bush hints at policies for his administration

Informal discussions include land use, Russia

January 14, 2001|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

CRAWFORD, Texas - President-elect George W. Bush said Friday that he planned to review and possibly roll back some of the most ambitious initiatives that President Clinton has taken in recent days, including regulations that put nearly 60 million acres of the nation's forests off limits to development.

"I understand the Western mentality, and I want the Western mentality represented in this administration," Bush said of his land-use policies. He emphasized that "we've got lawyers looking at every single issue, every single opportunity" to reverse actions Clinton has taken in the waning weeks of his presidency.

He also described what could well become a new, tougher approach toward Russia, limiting aid for its conversion to a market economy, and he elaborated on several other foreign policy issues. Previewing one of the most closely watched decisions he will face in his first month in office, he signaled that he was inclined to use an executive order to stop the flow of U.S. money to any international organizations that provide abortions in foreign countries.

"Organizations that promote abortions are organizations I don't want to support" with taxpayer dollars, Bush said.

Bush's remarks came in a 75-minute interview in the family room of his farmhouse here, followed by less formal conversation during a 90-minute tour of his ranch and a hike up a limestone canyon to his favorite waterfall.

Along the way - stopping at moments to admire the middle fork of the Bosque River rushing through his land or to point out a buzzard - the man who will become the 43rd president of the United States on Saturday also talked about his legislative priorities, his inaugural address and the diplomatic troubles he expects with Moscow and Beijing over his plans to deploy a national missile defense system.

Bush was dismissive of the Clinton administration's eight-year-long use of direct financial aid to Russia, part of a broad Western effort to coax the country toward the development of a market economy. He suggested he would try to stop the money - except for that used to dismantle nuclear weapons - until Vladimir V. Putin, the Russian president, cleaned up corruption and enacted far-reaching economic and legal reforms.

"It's hard for America to fashion Russia," Bush said. "It just seems like to me that we don't want to be lending money and, or encourage the lending of money into a system in which the intention of the capital is never fulfilled. The intent of the capital was to encourage entrepreneurship and growth and markets."

According to the General Accounting Office, the United States has spent roughly $2.3 billion since 1992 promoting democracy, the rule of law and market reforms in Russia, but the annual disbursements have tailed off steeply since the Russian financial crisis of 1998. The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, institutions in which the United States is the largest single shareholder, have issued loans to Russia over the same period worth about $30 billion.

Taken together, Bush's comments amounted to a sketchy road map for his first 100 days in office. By making it clear that he would rigorously review Clinton's environmental orders and suggesting he might reverse the Clinton administration's position on aid to family-planning groups working overseas, he was embracing some favorite causes of his conservative base, especially the Western states, which he called "that big swath of red on the map" - a region he swept as he took the presidency in the narrowest of victories.

On the issue of reversing Clinton's forest policy, which was made final this month, after years of painstaking review and public comment, Bush would face many legal restraints. In the interview, he acknowledged that his lawyers would have to look carefully at what options were open.

His comments on Russia, if converted into policy, could lead to a fundamental change in the way the United States seeks to influence the behavior of a nation that was once its chief superpower rival - and it risks heightening suspicions in Russia of how the United States is leveraging its economic and military power.

In the interview, Bush also made the following points:

He said his inaugural address, which he hopes to keep to 12 minutes, would carry the message that "we can be a unified America." But he insisted that this theme was not the product of his slim victory in the Electoral Col- lege and his loss of the popular vote.

Bush said he planned to quickly introduce his plan to cut taxes by $1.3 trillion over 10 years as a single bill, perhaps modifying it to deepen the tax cuts in the first few years to spur a slowing economy. Asked whether he would be willing to negotiate the size of his proposed tax cut with a sharply divided Congress, he said: "The answer is no. I think it's the right number."

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