Boris Yeltsin might get credit at home for firmly standing his ground on NATO expansion and winning concessions from President Clinton. But it’s far from certain he can get parliament to go along with his deals.
Yeltsin promised Clinton he would persuade the intractable State Duma to ratify the START II nuclear arms reduction treaty - a pledge he has made before without result. He also said he would ask the lower house of parliament to approve an anticipated “charter” with NATO linking Russia to the alliance.
Speaking at the summit’s concluding news conference Friday, Yeltsin said that was not a problem.
“I’m counting on the State Duma to take a decision in accordance with my advice,” grinned the tough Russian president, who less than four years ago used tanks and troops against a rebellious parliament.
Initial reaction was less than enthusiastic, however.
“We can speak of ratifying START II only if there will be greater trust between the sides. And this trust has significantly diminished,” Vladimir Lukin, chairman of the parliamentary international affairs committee, said in Helsinki.
For his own part, Clinton is well familiar with the difficulty of selling the Congress on foreign policy deals. He has failed so far, for example, to get the Senate to ratify the Chemical Weapons Convention that bans all chemical arms, and it is unclear how the Republican-dominated Congress will vote on NATO enlargement.
When the subject of dealing with lawmakers came up at the news conference, Clinton said wryly, “Seems to be a curse of democracy.”
In a sign of Republican unease with Clinton’s handling of the NATO issue, Senate Majority Leader Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., wrote in an opinion piece in Friday’s Washington Post that Clinton must get the Senate on board quickly.
“The administration and our NATO allies need to understand the concerns of the Senate before a treaty is submitted for ratification,” Lott wrote. “If President Clinton waits until 1998, it could be too late.”