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Western Press Review: The Pros And Cons Of Clinton-Yeltsin Summit

Prague, 21 March 1997 (RFE/RL) - As presidents Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin got down to the serious business of their Helsinki meeting today, Western press commentary continued to focus largely on U.S.-Russian policy differences, particularly over NATO's planned expansion to Central Europe.

USA TODAY: Russia can benefit from an expanded NATO

The national daily says in an editorial that Clinton and Yeltsin "will try to chill a heated U.S.-Russian debate over the future military boundaries of Europe." The paper asks: "Is NATO expansion worth the fight?" It answers: "Unquestionably. And if the Russian and U.S. nay-sayers need any more convincing, they should weigh the gains, for both the United States and Russia, against the losses." The gains include: "More members, more stability (for NATO)....Countries such as Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic have rushed reforms to win NATO consideration. The U.S. gains more trading partners and expanded stability in Europe." The paper says that Russia too will benefit from an expanded NATO, which it believes entails "expanded Russian engagement. Rather than further isolating Russia, as Yeltsin's foes insists," the paper says, "NATO's expansion can lead to cooperation by giving Moscow a voice, albeit no veto, in discussions of NATO policy."

BALTIMORE SUN: Americans are only dimly aware of the cost of U.S. commitment

Not all U.S. papers are all that positive about NATO enlargement, The Baltimore daily worries "that NATO will expand Eastward despite Moscow's objections and the lack of a searching debate or clear public consensus in the United States." The paper's editorial continues: "Americans are only dimly aware that their government is about to commit itself to the defense of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic if they are attacked, and that huge expenditures will be required if airport, highway and other defense-related facilities are to improved enough to make the commitment meaningful." In addition, the Sun says, "NATO expansion plays right into the hands of ultra-nationalists elements opposed to President Yeltsin who have blocked ratification of the START II strategic arms reduction treaty in the Russia Duma."

FIGARO: The Helsinki summit recalls Versailles rather than Yalta

Comments in two major West European papers also diverge in assessing NATO's coming enlargement. In a front-page editorial in the French daily today, foreign editor Charles Lambroschini says that "at Helsinki, Bill Clinton is counting on imposing a new European order on Boris Yeltsin" He continues: "Eight years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, this summit does not at all resemble the division (of Europe decided on at) Yalta in 1945. It recalls, rather the Versailles Treaty which, after World War I, put Germany at the will of its conquerors. The enlargement of NATO to the East...will quite simply confirm that the United States won the Cold War and the Soviets lost it. The Atlantic Alliance, which was created to protect Western Europe against Stalin's designs, will now extend itself to the frontiers of the ex-USSR."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The longer the Russians say 'nyet' the higher the price the West is willing to pay

But Josef Joffe, foreign editor of the German paper, sees the issue differently. In an editorial in his paper, Joffe says "that on NATO expansion, the West has maneuvered itself onto a dangerous, slippery slope -- the kind that has served Russia's strategic interests for years." Joffe continues: "The logic and goal of the Helsinki to try to coax (Yeltsin) into saying 'yes' to the plan to welcome Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic into NATO. The problem is, Yeltsin will not say 'yes' in Helsinki nor in time for the special NATO summit in July, where the official invitation to the three Central European states is to be tendered. Why? Because the Russians have concluded that the longer they say 'nyet,' as Foreign Minister Yevgeni Primakov did recently in Washington, the higher the price the West will be willing to pay for their eventual approval."

Much recent press comment, both European and U.S., discusses the present state of Russia and its President, as well Washington's current policy toward Moscow.

LOS ANGELES TIMES SYNDICATE: Russia sees NATO expansion as separating it from Europe

In a commentary published today, Boris Berezovsky, Deputy Secretary of Russia's National Security Council, asks the West: "Integrate Russia, Don't Isolate It." Berezovsky writes: "Russian objections (to the) expansion of NATO have nothing to do with fear of military threat. We are concerned about the long-term political consequences of this step, which we believe will separate Russia from Europe and in effect will put it in geopolitical opposition to the family of Western democracies....(As) seen from Moscow, (this) is the perpetuation of the division of Europe, with the demarcation line simply shifting to the East."

LOS ANGELES TIMES SYNDICATE: Washington underestimates Russia and overestimates China

The paper's foreign policy columnist, William Pfaff, criticizes U.S. policy toward Russia in a commentary today, saying that "Washington is disposed to underestimate Russia and overestimate China." Pfaff writes: "The conventional wisdom (in Washington) now has it that China will be the superpower of the 21st century, ready and able to challenge the U.S., while Russia will indefinitely remain in political disarray and economic anarchy. Ten years from now the opposite could actually be true....The U.S. treats China with respect and caution. It deals with Russia today in a summary manner....(But) Moscow is aware that the U.S. considers itself in a position to do whatever it chooses in Central and Eastern Europe....Mr. Yeltsin is being told in Helsinki that (NATO) expansion is not open to discussion."

WASHINGTON POST: Kissinger's and Brzezinski's comments are outdated

The paper yesterday ran a commentary by Susan Eisenhower critical of "many of the influential (U.S.) voices who say we should stand tough against the Russians." Eisenhower, the daughter of a former U.S. president, hones in on former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who she quotes as saying: "Whoever heard of a military alliance begging with a weakened adversary? NATO should not be turned into an instrument to conciliate Russia, or Russia will undermine it." Eisenhower writes: "Perhaps Kissinger hasn't got the word that the Cold War is over. 'Adversary' is hardly a contemporary way to characterize a country that has moved forward with market-oriented reforms, held free and fair democratic elections, withdrawn from a bloody civil war (in Chechnya) and worked closely and productively...under U.S. command in Bosnia....Kissinger's comments," she concludes, "and similar rhetoric used by (former U.S. National Security Adviser) Zbigniew Brzezinski are outdated."

LE FIGARO: Russia's place in the world is what Helsinki is really about

In a commentary yesterday in the French paper, Russian specialist Helene Carrere d'Encausse says that it is a "resuscitated Yeltsin, once again himself, who is talking" in Helsinki. Yeltsin's recent appointments of economic reformers to a new government, she notes, constitutes "a new departure (and meets the demands) of international monetary institutions whose support is necessary (for Russia's progress.) Boris Yeltsin will thus be much more at ease than he appears to be in meeting the American president and discussing with him the other part of his program, Russia's place in the world. Because," she adds, "(that's what Helsinki) is really about, beyond the immediate subject that the two presidents will certainly talk about, the enlargement of NATO."