In a summit of modest results, Boris Yeltsin spurned President Clinton’s pleas Wednesday to halt the bloody repression in Chechnya and to abandon a nuclear technology sale to Iran. Their restrained appraisal of the talks suggested widening differences.
“In playing this relationship out, there will come times when there will be differences,” a subdued Clinton said at a joint news conference with Yeltsin. But he said, “Our people will be safer as a result of this meeting. It was an advance for security.”
Yeltsin, after six months of hesitation, declared that Russia will formalize military ties with NATO, the Western alliance that once was Moscow’s enemy.
Yeltsin made clear, though, that he remains deeply suspicious of NATO’s plans to expand eastward toward Russia’s doorstep.
After three hours of Kremlin talks, neither leader asserted any breakthrough on policy differences that have put Russian-American relations under their deepest strain since the Cold War. Yet both sides were able to walk away with some claim of satisfaction.
“Even after the summit,” Yeltsin said, “differences to a number of issues have not disappeared.”
Most prominent were Clinton’s objections to Russia’s brutal crackdown in the breakaway republic of Chechnya. The president said he urged Yeltsin to declare a permanent cease-fire, but the Russian president appeared unmoved.
“This is an internal matter for Russia,” Yeltsin declared, blaming some of the bloodshed on terrorism rather than the work of Russian soldiers. By some estimates, 35,000 people have been killed.
Clinton made a direct appeal to the Russian people for an end to the war. “This terrible tragedy must be brought to a rapid and peaceful conclusion,” he said in the speech broadcast from Moscow University throughout Russia. “Continued fighting in that region can only spill more blood and further erode support for Russia among her neighbors around the world.”
Even as Russian forces shelled rebel positions southeast of Grozny and fighting intensified, Yeltsin declared at the news conference: “There are no hostilities in Chechnya. There is no armed activity in Chechnya.” He said Russian soldiers were merely “confiscating weapons.”
Under intense pressure from Clinton and threats from congressional leaders to cancel U.S. aid for Russia, Yeltsin agreed not to sell Iran a gas centrifuge that could be used to produce weaponsgrade enriched uranium.
Yeltsin withdrew that part of the deal after Clinton presented intelligence documents suggesting that Iran is trying to become a nuclear power.