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Russia: No Breakthroughs Expected In Primakov-Camdessus Meetings

Washington, 23 March 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov goes into a meeting with the head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) tomorrow evening in Washington with what many in Moscow seem to believe is a last-chance effort to secure renewed IMF lending.

The governor of Russia's Central Bank, Viktor Gerashchenko, even said Monday that Russia has, at most, a 75 percent chance of getting a new loan from the IMF.

But IMF officials have a different view. Speaking on condition of not being identified, fund officials say the Primakov meeting with Managing Director Michel Camdessus is part of a long series of discussions which have no deadline and are already planned to continue in Moscow soon.

The officials say that while it is important for Russia's Prime Minister to sit down and review the situation personally with Camdessus, there is no expectation of any major breakthroughs.

The officials dismiss some Moscow commentators who say an agreement with the IMF is virtually a done deal. "We're not quite that close yet," commented one. "There's still a lot of wiggle room."

Mostly, the officials say they are simply hopeful that steady progress can continue. IMF officials say a fund team, which returned from Moscow on the weekend had made progress in narrowing differences between Russian officials and the IMF. Not more than a month ago, IMF officials were pessimistic, saying there were large and deep differences over Russia's 1999 budget and the specifics of many of its reform programs for this year.

But in two weeks of talks in Moscow, the IMF team was able to narrow differences in a number of important areas. That kind of progress is expected in Washington as well, not so much because of the Primakov meeting, but due to the fact that a full team of Russian financial and economic officials will be accompanying him.

While Primakov is meeting with Camdessus at the U.S. White House guest quarters, Blair House, and attending to other parts of his agenda, they will be busy at IMF headquarters continuing last week's dialogue.

The fund in effect suspended its $11.5 billion emergency loan after the Russian financial collapse last August and Moscow has been seeking ways to restore fund lending ever since. Moscow faces foreign debt repayments, including some owed to the IMF, of over $17.5 billion this year and needs new financing to meet its obligations.

Primakov and his delegation arrive in the U.S. later today (Tuesday), primarily for the first meeting in over a year of the U.S.-Russian Binational Commission he co-chairs with U.S. Vice President Al Gore.

The Commission normally meets every six months, alternating between Washington and Moscow, but last summer's Russian financial crisis and the change in Prime Ministers pushed the scheduled gathering back to now.

Gore's national security adviser, Leon Fuerth, says the commission's two days of meetings Wednesday and Thursday, will have a full agenda, including many issues that have been waiting for months.

The commission, which is charged with smoothing all aspects of bilateral relations, will, according to State Department spokesman James Foley, cover a broad agenda:

"The U.S. and Russia will cover a full range of issues from business development to environment to space cooperation. This will be the 11th session of the commission, the first between Gore and Primakov. Beyond that, he will be meeting with IMF Managing Director Camdessus while in Washington. The IMF and Russia are still focusing on what still needs to be done to make Russia's 1999 budget realistic. Russia needs to address this and other fundamental economic policy challenges it faces, which include stabilizing the exchange rate, fighting inflation and restructuring the banking system, as well as legislative, regulatory and judicial reforms which will improve the climate for investment."

The binational commission wraps up its business Thursday with a joint press conference by Primakov and Gore.

On Friday, Primakov travels to New York for what is billed as a private visit, where U.S. officials say he will hold meetings with U.S. business people and with United Nations officials. He flies back to Moscow on Saturday.