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White House Welcomes Chechen Development

Washington, April 2 (RFE/RL) - A senior White House official says the U.S. supports Russian President Boris Yeltsin's latest effort to end the war with Chechen separatists.

"We welcome President Yeltsin's decision to begin withdrawing army units and intensify the search for a settlement," National Security Adviser Anthony Lake said Monday. "We call on Chechens to respond in a similar spirit."

In a speech to the annual meeting of the U.S.-Russia Business Council in Washington, Lake said Chechnya has become a tragedy for Chechens, for Russians and for friends of Russian democracy. He called for the "cycle of violence" to end.

"We support the territorial integrity of Russia and oppose attempts to use violence to change international borders," Lake said. "We oppose terrorism in all forms, but we also oppose -- strongly -- the means the Russians have been using."

Lake says the widespread and indiscriminate use of force in Chechnya by Russia "has spilled far too much innocent blood and eroded support for Russia."

The war in Chechnya is not the only troubling issue in Russia today, Lake said. "Senior officials who stood for reform have been fired," Lake said. "Protectionist pressures have jolted trade. " He also mentioned Russia's ongoing nuclear cooperation with Iran and last month's symbolic vote in the Duma to reconstitute the Soviet Union as issues of concern.

He says U.S. hopes for Russia's future should not blind the West to its current problems. He says it serves no one to pretend that problems do not exist or that they do not matter.

"But neither should we yield to the prophets of pessimism who insist that Russia is doomed to repeat its past," said Lake. "If we shrug our shoulders, if we turn our backs, we risk creating a self-fulfilling prophecy and we will miss a unique opportunity."

Lake also spoke to the specific concerns of the U.S.-Russian business council, saying the U.S. is working to help Russia improve the climate for business and to speed up reforms that will create a truly free market.

"We know that for Russia's economy to work ... the business climate has to be predictable and open," Lake said. "Contracts must be honored, the banking system must be strengthened, taxes and their enforcement must be fair, laws and regulations must be observed throughout the land, and corruption must be rooted out."

Lake says the government and the private sector must "stand firm behind Russia's new democratic institutions," because a strong democracy is crucial for a free market.

He says the U.S. must also continue support for reform through international financial institutions. He also says the U.S. will continue to work with Russia on basic reforms and good business practices.

"Together, these steps will help Russia create the economic security its people so deeply desire," Lake said.