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Washington Journal: Clinton Urges Russia To Reaffirm Commitment To Reform, Democracy

Washington, 15 September 1998 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President Bill Clinton says Russia must promote an unambiguous policy based on the principles of democracy and free markets.

Clinton said in a speech in New York on Monday that abandoning market reforms could result in greater adversity and instability for Russia. And, he said, the worst-case scenario is that such actions would negatively affect Russo-American cooperation.

The American president said Russia is facing an economic crisis that threatens the "extraordinary progress" made since the collapse of communism seven years ago. He noted that the ruble and Russian stock prices have plummeted, banks are weak, tax collections have slowed and the government has trouble paying its debts and salaries.

At the same time, Clinton said some Russians have become wealthy but many more are struggling to make a living.

Clinton, who held a summit with Russian President Boris Yeltsin in Moscow earlier this month, said that amid such difficulty some Russians now talk of abandoning the path of reforms and returning to the policies of the past.

That will not work, he said, because those policies have already failed once.

Clinton then raised an ominous possibility.

He said: "At worse, adversity in Russia could affect not only the Russian economy and prospects for our economic cooperation; at worst, it can have an impact on our cooperation with Russia on nuclear disarmament, on fighting terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction, on standing together for peace from the Balkans to the Middle East."

Clinton said Yeltsin and his new prime minister, Yevgeny Primakov, face some of the great challenges of their time.

He said: "Never has there been a more important moment to set a clear direction for the future, to affirm the commitment of Russia to democracy and free markets and to take decisive steps to stabilize the economy and restore investor confidence."

Clinton said if Russia is willing to take these steps, the U.S. "must do everything we can to provide support to them."

On the other hand, Clinton said, the world needs to be honest with Russia.

"No nation, rich or poor, democratic or authoritarian, can escape the fundamental economic imperatives of the global market," Clinton said. "No nation can escape its discipline, no nation can avoid its responsibility to do its part.:"

The president said all economies are increasingly interdependent and, thus, fear and uncertainty about the economy of one country can prompt investors to withdraw their money of other countries thousands of kilometers away.

Clinton said: "We have to say we'll only be able to help those countries who are willing to help themselves."

The president said if a nation decides to print money indiscriminately, allows corruption, hides bad loans and protects inefficient banks, then investors - foreign and domestic - sooner or later will withdraw their investments. And that, he says, would have "swift and severe" consequences.

Clinton also said that America and the other advanced industrial democracies must spur economic growth to fight what he called the biggest financial challenge in half a century.