Presidents Clinton and Boris Yeltsin reached agreement in principle at a summit here Monday that Russian armed forces will join U.S. and other NATO troops in enforcing a Bosnian peace agreement.
The leaders said they left details to military advisers, who received undisclosed guidance toward overcoming problems posed by Russia’s continuing refusal to place troops under NATO command.
In a scenic environment of golden autumn leaves and blue Hudson Valley skies, Clinton and Yeltsin worked in shirt sleeves in the walnut-paneled library of the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt estate. Their four hours of discussions, described afterward by an ebullient Yeltsin as the “friendliest and best” of their nine meetings to date, were dominated by Bosnia. But the talks also produced progress on several nuclear and arms-control issues.
During a joint appearance on the stone front porch of the 190-year-old mansion, Yeltsin exulted in the positive outcome of a meeting he had entered in admitted pessimism. He noted that after his Sunday speech to the U.N. General Assembly had emphasized wide U.S.-Russian differences over NATO, many journalists were predicting disaster for the summit.
“Well, now for the first time, I can tell you that you’re a disaster,” he ribbed reporters, causing Clinton to turn beet-red and teary-eyed with helpless laughter.
For all the good will on bringing Russia into the Bosnian peace process, U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry and Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev still must meet Friday in Washington to start resolving profound military disagreements they were unable to work out in an Oct. 15 meeting.
Officials said both sides stuck to basic positions on Bosnia, the Russians shunning NATO command and the Americans insisting on a “unified command” with NATO fully in charge. Officials would not comment on suggestions that Russians play only support roles in construction or supply, although Yeltsin said the leaders had “used even some of your (journalists’) seemingly most unbelievable options.”
Senior administration officials said the governments “made a start” Monday on bridging conceptual differences, arming defense officials with “political guidance” and “an impulse from their two bosses to move further toward closure.”
Clinton, declining to say what specific ideas looked promising for the experts, explained that he and Yeltsin wanted to “say nothing here which would make their work harder than it already is.” A senior U.S. official acknowledged that the two sides were being “a bit Delphic” on the subject.
The administration, which is having a tough time getting the congressional Republican majority to go along with potentially supplying about 20,000 U.S. troops to a Bosnia peace force, regards NATO command as a political necessity. Without Russian involvement in the potentially bloody job of keeping long-warring Bosnian ethnic factions apart, prospects of congressional support for U.S. participation would be dimmed. Russian involvement remains far from assured, but it is slightly more likely after Monday’s summit.
“The first and most important thing is, make peace in Bosnia,” Clinton stressed. “That has not been done yet.” He said he and Yeltsin had agreed on a common stance toward Bosnian peace talks that begin Oct. 31 at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio.
On other matters, Clinton and Yeltsin announced that they had found a common position on obtaining a worldwide treaty next year to totally ban nuclear testing. They accepted a report by Vice President Al Gore and Soviet Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin on jointly assuring the safety from potential terrorist use of nuclear materials stored in Russia.
Yeltsin said the two nations “came to terms” on the thorny subject of limits for Russian troop strength in its southern-flank Caucasus region under the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty. Russia is heading for non-compliance with the agreed-upon numbers by a Nov. 17 deadline. A U.S. official later said Yeltsin had misspoken and that the Russians merely had submitted a “welcome” counterproposal to a September NATO suggestion for new troop limits. The CFE haggling will go on, the official said.
With ratification of the important START II arms control treaty lagging in the U.S. Senate and the Russian Duma, the leaders agreed to push hard for legislative approval and voiced optimism for it.
The issue of expanding NATO to admit new members from among former Soviet satellite states in central and Eastern Europe arose “only very obliquely” between the heads of state. In the political context of Duma elections coming up in December, NATO expansion is anathema to Russian nationalists and increasingly, therefore, to Yeltsin.
In contrast to the importance of Cold War summit meetings with Soviet leaders, U.S.-Russian summits are now routine. For Clinton, this was the ninth encounter of his presidency with Yeltsin, his third this year.
MEMO: Cut in Spokane edition.