Washington, 7 July 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The United States says American-Russian relations are so important that a summit between the two presidents will go forward in September despite the Duma's decision to postpone a ratification vote on a key nuclear arms treaty.
U.S. President Bill Clinton announced Monday that he has accepted an invitation from his Russian counterpart, Boris Yeltsin, to meet in Russia. The exact dates for the meeting in early September were not disclosed.
Clinton said in a statement that the summit underscores "the vitality of U.S.-Russian relationships." He said Vice President Albert Gore will use his July 23-24 meetings in Moscow with Russian officials to help prepare the agenda.
White House spokesman P.J. Crowley said Clinton has a range of important issues to discuss with Yeltsin, including the Kosovo crisis and the Russian economy.
Crowley said: "We always thought that the meeting would be most productive in a post-START II ratification timing, but obviously, the relationship is important enough to continue, and the presidents will have lots to discuss."
The Duma postponed a ratification vote on the START II treaty earlier this year until the autumn. The 1993 treaty would cut U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals nearly in half from the current 6,000 warheads each. A proposed START III treaty would reduce nuclear arms to 80 percent of Cold War levels.
The communist-dominated state Duma has been reluctant to take up the arms reduction treaty. Some Russian lawmakers have accused Washington of trying to bully its once-formidable Cold War foe and link the summit to arms reduction. Both the Duma and the Kremlin are opposed to NATO's plan to bring Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic into the alliance next spring.
Crowley said: "We have clearly favored a meeting following START II ratification by the Duma, no question about that. However, the range of important issues that we have with Russia are such that we believe there is plenty for the two presidents to discuss, including where we go on on arms control, once the Duma does ratify START II."
At the State Department, spokesman James Rubin said the summit would also take up the Kosovo crisis which the U.S. and its allies say has been triggered by Belgrade's crackdown of ethnic Albanians in the Serbian province.
Moscow, a traditional ally of Serbia, is at odds with the United States on the possible use of military force against Belgrade. Washington has maintained that all options are under consideration, including the possible use of force, to prevent the conflict from spreading into a wider war.
Clinton and Yeltsin have meet frequently at international diplomatic gatherings, but their last formal summit was in March 1997 in Helsinki. The most recent summit in Moscow between the two came in April 1996. They also met in May of this year in Birmingham, England, at a meeting of industrialized nations.
Crowley also said Clinton and Yeltsin were likely to discuss Russia's progress in implementing economic reforms called for by the International Monetary Fund and any needs it may have for additional financial support.