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Russia: Clinton-Yeltsin Summit Overdue

  • Sonia Winter

Washington, 6 December 1996 (RFE/RL) - The decision of U.S. President Bill Clinton and Russia's President Boris Yeltsin to hold a summit next March will bridge an unusually long gap in their bilateral meetings.

They last met in April in Moscow for a two-day summit after an international conference on nuclear safety and have not seen each other since. But in 1994 and 1995, Clinton and Yeltsin had face-to-face talks at least three times a year.

Analysts attribute the 1996 exception to Yeltsin's illness and the preoccupation of both leaders, in the United States and Russia, with presidential elections.

U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher said Thursday that the summit next spring will be "very timely."

He said direct contact between the two leaders has usually led to good results. "When they can meet together and when they can talk issues through face to face there are real advantages," Christopher said.

But their last summit in Moscow was not a complete success. Security issues dominated the talks and while Clinton and Yeltsin made some headway on sticky arms problems, they clashed publicly on the question of NATO expansion.

U.S. officials hope the next summit will be different, although NATO again is expected to dominate the agenda.

A NATO summit planned for the summer of 1997 is to name the first countries of the former Warsaw Pact that will be invited to join the Western military alliance.

Christopher said the U.S.-Russian meeting is "well-timed in advance of the NATO summit."

However, Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin recently reiterated Russia's opposition to NATO expansion with as much strength as ever, showing no sign that the two sides are coming to agreement over the issue.

Chernomyrdin and U.S. Vice President Al Gore are to meet in Washington in February to decide the agenda and the venue of the U.S.-Russian summit.

Announcements of the summit in Moscow and Washington this week did not say who will host it, but U.S. officials say they expect it to be America's turn.

Clinton and Yeltsin will be meeting for the first time since both were re-elected to second terms in office -- Yeltsin in July and Clinton last month.

On the American side next spring, only Clinton's face will be familiar. All the other high-level U.S. officials who usually accompany the president to U.S.-Russian summit talks will be new additions to Clinton's cabinet.

In a long-awaited announcement, Clinton Thursday revealed his nominations for a new Defense Secretary -- retiring Republican Senator William Cohen of Maine, and a new Secretary of State -- Madeleine Albright, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations since 1993.

Cabinet member appointments have to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate in January when Clinton will be inaugurated for a second term and several members of his present cabinet, including Christopher, will retire.

Analysts say the Senate hearing on Albright will provide Republican opponents of Clinton's policies an opportunity to air critical views. But in the end they are expected to approve her nomination.

The Czech-born Albright would then become the first woman ever to serve as U.S. Secretary of State.

Tough-talking and outspoken in her views, she has often expressed support for NATO expansion and visited the countries of Central and eastern Europe several times in her official capacity.

Albright, 59, became a U.S. citizen after her family fled communist Czechoslovakia and settled in the United States.

She will be the first U.S. Secretary of State to speak fluent Czech -- as well as Russian, Polish and French.

Albright has written several books about politics in Central Europe and was a scholar of Soviet and East European affairs at various academic institutions in the 1970s and 1980s.

But she also has rich political experience and is a longtime friend of Warren Christopher.

They met more than 20 years ago when both were working on the presidential campaign of a well-known U.S. senator, Edmund Muskie. He didn't become president, but Albright stayed in politics, going on to the White House to work on the staff of the National Security Council.

In the 1980's she worked again for a losing democratic presidential candidate -- Michael Dukakis -- counseling him on foreign policy.