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Despite Hard-Line Shift, Russian Says Relations With U.S. Friendly Yeltsin’s New Foreign Minister Meets With American Officials

Sun., Feb. 11, 1996

Yevgeny M. Primakov, the new Russian foreign minister, said Saturday that Russia continued to desire a close working relationship with the United States and had no intention of trying to resurrect the Soviet Union.

Primakov, who spoke after two days of meetings here with Secretary of State Warren Christopher, also said Russia would not put into effect any new oil deal with Iraq until the United Nations lifted sanctions against it.

Primakov, 66, took over in January as foreign minister after Andrei V. Kozyrev, a liberal Westernizer, was fired. It was Primakov’s first trip to the West since his appointment, after extensive visits to the former Soviet countries of Tajikistan, Belarus and Ukraine.

“I’d say we’re off to a good start,” Christopher said. Senior U.S. officials said these early, wide-ranging discussions between two men who barely knew one another had been conducted in a conciliatory and friendly atmosphere, despite serious differences on issues like the planned eastward expansion of NATO and the Russian sale of nuclear reactors to Iran.

U.S. officials expressed relief at Primakov’s pragmatism, skill and evident preparation. They said President Boris Yeltsin had no desire for instability in the U.S. relationship before Russian presidential elections in June. But the tone was a far cry from the warm talk of alliances, friendship and partnership that used to surround meetings with Kozyrev.

Christopher had dinner with Primakov on Friday night as well as six and a half hours of talks with him. Christopher said he was “pleasantly surprised” by “the attitudes of openness he brought, and the willingness to recognize differences and manage them.” Primakov “stressed that the Cold War is over” and that neither he nor any of his colleagues wanted it back, Christopher said.

For his part, Primakov said: “It was very fruitful. As you Americans like to say, it was a very businesslike meeting. The relationship between our two countries is of the first priority.” He said there was “no basis to consider that Russian-American relations are in a crisis.”

Primakov is an English- and Arabic-speaking Middle East expert who served in the Soviet Politburo and most recently ran Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, the international side of the old KGB.

He is regarded as a representative of the tough, more nationalistic tone in Russian foreign policy that Yeltsin began to articulate after the strong showing of Vladimir V. Zhirinovsky in the December 1993 parliamentary elections.

Two years later, Yeltsin is further weakened by the quagmire in separatist Chechnya and his own unhealthy heart muscle. With the presidential election drawing near, Yeltsin is trying to co-opt a new Parliament dominated by Communists and nationalists.

Yeltsin has fired the most prominent liberals in his Cabinet. U.S. officials insist that the essence of Russian-U.S. relations has not changed, and that, as Christopher said Saturday, there are more areas of agreement than disagreement.

But Primakov insisted Saturday on “equality” in the relationship, an old Cold War complaint about U.S. arrogance, saying, “We want to eliminate from our international life the uncomfortable consequences of the Cold War, which we can still feel from time to time.”


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