Washington, 29 January 1997 (RFE/RL) - U.S. President Bill Clinton says Russia's President Boris Yeltsin's continuing health problems should not alter the relations between the two countries in the near future.
Clinton told a Washington news conference Tuesday he was impressed how Yeltsin delegated responsibility to Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin during the time of his heart surgery as well as his continuing convalescence.
Clinton said he expects the two leaders will hold a summit meeting as scheduled in March. He said the summit was important because he wants to discuss a number of crucial issues with the Russian president.
Clinton said NATO's eastward expansion as well as arms reduction will be on the summit agenda. He said the two leaders also have a number of economic issues to resolve. The U.S. president did not specify what those issues were.
Clinton discussed his scheduled meeting with Yeltsin during a wide-ranging news conference, which was dominated by the domestic agenda in the United States.
Yeltsin's continuing health problems have, however, raised concern among Russia's allies. The Russian President spent months away from the Kremlin last year because of health problems and underwent heart surgery on November 5. He appeared on television two weeks after the surgery, looking weak but upbeat.
But on January 6 Yeltsin became ill again. This time the Kremlin said the President was suffering from pneumonia. He again disappeared from public view, raising much speculation he was too ill to govern. He appeared on Russian television Tuesday, however. Yeltsin was shown meeting with Chernomyrdin during a short, working visit to the Kremlin.
Yeltsin's spokesman, Sergei Yastrzhembsky insists the President is recovering well. He said his personal impression was Yeltsin's health was improving. He said he expected the President to gradually increase his workload.
During his news conference, Clinton said he had no information that would contradict the statements from the Kremlin. Clinton said, "I have no reason to believe his condition is different" than what the Kremlin is reporting.
On a separate issue, Clinton predicted personal and economic freedoms in China will be liberalized. He said with the nature of economic change in the country and the available information about the rest of the world the sphere of liberty will increase over time. He said, like the fall of the Berlin Wall, liberalization in China is inevitable.
But Clinton expressed disappointment by the lack of progress on human rights in the communist country. China continues to jail pro-democracy dissidents and critics of the government.
Clinton said isolating China for its policies would not alter the situation there, however. He defended the U.S. policy of maintaining economic and high-level diplomatic contacts with China.
"Continued engagement with China has the greatest likelihood of a positive impact," he said.
Clinton also expressed concern China may restrict personal freedoms when it takes over Hong Kong in July. But he added such a policy would be detrimental to China and he hoped Chinese leaders realize that.
"I'm not so sure that it can exist with all of its potential to help China modernize its own economy, and open opportunities for its own people, if the civil liberties of the people are crushed" in Hong Kong, Clinton said.