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Russia/US: Clinton And Yeltsin Meet Over Dinner

Helsinki, 20 March 1997 (RFE/RL) - President Bill Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin are holding a first informal meeting over dinner as the Helsinki summit gets underway. White House spokesman Michael McCurry says tonight's dinner will be largely a social occasion for the two presidents to renew their friendship forged in ten previous summits. He said the two also will review tomorrow's agenda but leave substantive work for tomorrow's sessions.

The summit is expected to largely focus on NATO's planned expansion eastward, which Moscow opposes. Arms control and expanding Russian-U.S. economic cooperation are other key issues.

Arriving for the summit today, Yeltsin said he and Clinton had difficult and serious talks ahead of them. But Yeltsin said he hoped they will resolve issues that have caused friction between the two countries. After Yeltsin's remarks Clinton said he was encoouraged and looked forward to their talks.

Clinton made the same comment tonight as he and Yeltsin posed for cameras at their first meeting in nearly a year.

Clinton received last-minute briefings from his foreign policy team before tonight's first meeting with Yeltsin. McCurry told reporters that U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov met separately in a last-minute attempt to bridge some of their differences. McCurry gave no details.

Yeltsin has had major heart surgery and Clinton is incapacitated by a recent knee operation. McCurry said Clinton is having to adjust to summitry in a wheelchair.

Yeltsin, accompanied by his wife Naina, arrived in a new presidential Ilyushin-96 jet specially outfitted for medical emergencies and was accompanied by his doctors. It's his first foreign trip since undergoing multiple heart bypass surgery and being afflicted with pneumonia.