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Russia: Berger Says No Guarantee Of Progress In Relations

U.S. President Bill Clinton's national security adviser, Samuel Berger, spoke to a gathering of journalists in Washington yesterday about U.S. foreign policy goals in the coming year. RFE/RL correspondent Petra Mayer was there and files this report.

Washington, 7 January 2000 (RFE/RL) -- For the first time in Russian history, power changed hands peacefully last week when President Boris Yeltsin stepped down in favor of his prime minister, Vladimir Putin.

Despite the historic changeover, U.S. President Bill Clinton's national security adviser, Samuel Berger, told reporters in Washington Thursday that relations between the Washington and Moscow may not necessarily improve.

In a speech outlining Washington's foreign policy aims for the coming year, Berger said that while acting President Putin enjoys strong support from the Duma and the Russian people, it is unsure how that will affect U.S.-Russian relations.

"There is no guarantee of progress on the issues that matter to us most. But we certainly intend to seek it, including further reductions in strategic weapons, as we work to develop a national missile defense system while preserving an antiballistic missile treaty."

Berger said the U.S. cannot cease its support for the rule of law in Russia, despite disagreements between the two countries.

Berger also said Washington has made it clear to the Russian government that Russia's use of military force in Chechnya is both excessive and wrong.

"We've made clear that Russia's struggle against terrorism is appropriate. But its use of indiscriminate force is wrong. And it is inviting far more serious problems for itself than it can possibly be solving. But we should not stop supporting those forces in Russia that are trying to strengthen the rule of law and build faith in democratic institutions."

Berger said that while Russia is paying a price for its conduct in Chechnya, Russian democracy must not.

Berger went on to say that the U.S. is pleased that Putin has taken over as acting president. He described Putin as being "at the cutting edge of economic and political reform" during his early-90s term as deputy mayor of St. Petersburg. Berger said the real test of Putin's administration will come during the next three months as he balances the demands of running Russia while at the same time running for president.

"If Russia passes power from its first democratically elected president to its second democratically elected president, I think that will be a good thing. Nelson Mandela has said that the most important election for a new democracy is not the first but the second. And so I think we'll have to watch very carefully over the next three months." Russia is set to hold its second presidential election on March 26.