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U.S.: Republicans Criticize Russia Policy

Washington, 16 March 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Leaders of the Republican Party majority in the U.S. House of Representatives say President Bill Clinton's policy toward Russia has failed, so they've formed a commission to review U.S.-Russia ties and make suggestions on how to change them.

The speaker (chairman) of the House of Representatives, Dennis Hastert (R-Illinois), told reporters Wednesday why the Congress wants to review U.S. policy toward Russia. Hastert said:

"Russia remains as critical as ever to America's national security. It has the potential to evolve to either a stable, peaceful democratic nation, or an unstable, aggressive, authoritarian state."

And, despite billions of dollars in U.S. economic assistance, Hastert charged that what he called the Cold War victory won by former President Ronald Reagan, a Republican, has been squandered. He blamed Clinton, a Democrat, and Clinton's vice president, Al Gore. Hastert said:

"Over the past seven years, the situation in the U.S.-Russian relations has deteriorated as a result of a failed Clinton-Gore Russia policy."

The Republicans are campaigning to regain control of the White House. Clinton first took office in January 1993. The U.S. will elect a new president in November who will be inaugurated next January. Vice President Gore is expecting the formal Democratic presidential nomination in August. The Republicans are expected to nominate Governor George Bush of Texas.

The U.S. Constitution leaves the conduct of foreign policy to the president. However, the Congress has the power to set the nation's budget, including what is spent on foreign economic assistance. There are several committees in the 435-member House and 100-member Senate which exercise oversight roles in foreign affairs.

The current House has been particularly assertive in foreign policy. Just last week, for example, the House approved legislation that would prohibit U.S. aid for Russia's space program unless the president certifies that Russia has ceased cooperation with Iran on nuclear power projects. Despite complaints from Russia, Clinton signed the measure on Tuesday.

The Republican commission, or task force as Hastert calls it, is made up of 12 House members. The chairman is Congressman Christopher Cox of California, an accomplished Russian speaker who has made many trips to Moscow. Members include International Relations Committee Chairman Benjamin Gilman of New York and Banking Committee Chairman Jim Leach.

Cox contends that nearly a decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia is still in turmoil with no end in sight. He said:

"Today, after eight years, we can see that Russia is more unstable than ever before. It is more hostile and poorer and more lawless than it was in 1992."

However, he says it would be a mistake to dismiss Russia as what he called a bumbling, insignificant country. Russia, says Cox, is a major European and Asian power possessing thousands of nuclear weapons, but also with vast untapped economic potential.

Congressman Gilman charged that the Clinton administration has given Americans what he called a soothing but false message about its Russian policy, calling it a White House success story.

"Something has in fact been seriously wrong with the administration's policy toward Russia for sometime now. We have indeed lost something important: the opportunity to create a trust between the United States and Russia and to help democracy in that country."

There was no immediate reaction from the White House to the Republican criticisms.