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Western Press Review: All Eyes On U.S.-Russian Summit

Prague, 2 June 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The summit in Moscow this weekend between U.S. President Bill Clinton and Russian President Vladimir Putin is grist for commentators in the U.S., Russia, and Europe today.


Experienced U.S. foreign policy commentator Daniel Schorr, writing in the Christian Science Monitor (Boston) says Putin will try to focus the talks on combating terrorism. "In the run-up to the summit -- oops, meeting," Schorr writes, "the Kremlin was putting out the line that the Chechen insurgents are being supported by the militant Afghan Taliban and by Osama bin Laden, who is No. 1 on America's most-wanted terrorist list. The Russian Defense Ministry said that last week Russian planes attacked a convoy of arms headed for Chechnya, escorted by 80 Taliban guerrillas."

"You can see where this leads," Schorr says. "If you accept the Russian line, Putin and Clinton shouldn't be arguing about Chechnya, but making common cause against a common foe. How Clinton will respond to that is not clear. But working together against the Afghanistan-based terrorists," he concludes, "has a certain appeal for American officials."


Caspar Weinberger, U.S. defense secretary under Ronald Reagan and now chairman of Forbes magazine, warns in a commentary in the Wall Street Journal-Europe: "Summit meetings are potential minefields ... The staff's highest priority at the actual meeting is to ensure innocuous discussion."

But Weinberger says the weekend summit between Clinton and Putin, in his words, "could turn into something far more substantive and 'risky' for the U.S. Mr. Clinton, still intent on salvaging something for his legacy, is taking to Moscow an arms proposal designed more to placate Mr. Putin than to safeguard America's security."

Weinberger says the Clinton proposal on the Anti-Ballistic Missile, or ABM, treaty is a poor compromise. He describes it this way: "We [will try to persuade Russia to amend the ABM treaty to let us build a small, useless missile defense that will appear ineffective even against 'rogue states,' particularly if one defines rogue states as those likely to attack with nuclear missiles. In return, we will cut our missiles below the safe level prescribed by military leaders -- most of whom have been appointed by Mr. Clinton -- which may, perhaps, lead the Russians to cut their own nuclear arsenals."

But Weinberger says: "Mr. Clinton's compromise seems to be based more on what he thinks will secure Mr. Putin's agreement than on security needs. Nothing has been said about verifiability; the ABM Treaty itself is not verifiable. And a further point has gone largely unmentioned in the runup to the summit. That is the U.S. proposal to bring in three other former Soviet republics -- Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan -- to join Russia as new parties to the 'strengthened' ABM Treaty."

Weinberger concludes: "This would make it difficult for any future U.S. administration to step out of the dangerous restraints the present ABM treaty -- itself on shaky legal foundation since the death of the Soviet Union -- places on our ability to defend both ourselves and our allies."


The Moscow daily Segodnya also comments on the summit in its editorial, saying: "Everyone is agreed that that no spectacular successes are to be expected from the summit: the time for excessive expectations is past. The time has come to concentrate on secondary but solvable problems."

Segodnya continues: "Putin's meeting with Clinton at last appears to be condemned to relative success. Neither state, on objective and domestic political grounds, is interested in showing off its differences of opinion. That is especially true of the U.S. president, who at the end of his term wants to justify his policy toward Russia."


Another Moscow daily, Vedomosti, says this: "The Russo-American summit meeting promises to be pleasant if only because it is not duty bound to accomplish anything.


In Spain, Madrid's El Mundo comments that Clinton's "new version of 'star wars' primarily is running head-on against Russia's rejection, in whose eyes this technological protective shell would further strengthen the military might of the U.S." But, the Spanish daily adds, "the U.S. initiative has also resulted in splitting the European partners. Great Britain and Germany are, with reservations, in accord with Clinton. So far France has been opposed. It fears that the new system will enlarge Europe's technological and military dependence on the U.S. and burden relations with Russia."


In Denmark, an editorial in Information today says: "Putin is on a dangerous course, but the outside world has so far preferred to look the other way and let the KGB-democrat do whatever he would. Even the criticism of the Russian-led war in Chechnya has come to look rather symbolic. As recently as the beginning of this week, a delegation that was supposed to extend EU's opprobrium from the summit meeting in Helsinki in December 1999 toned down the dialogue and quietly let Putin go his way. The EU," Information continues, "looks as though it is prepared to forget about Chechnya in order to get Russia to cooperate in the Balkans, where Moscow -- out of its desire to preserve its key position -- has consistently made friends with indicted war criminal Slobodan Milosevic."

The U.S will be no different, Information predicts. It says: "The United States has an entirely different project to sell: the changes to the ABM Treaty. It is expected to continue to turn a blind eye on Chechnya: tit for tat."

The Danish editorial concludes: "In the meantime, Putin will be concentrating on dealing with the internal opposition that has already begun to show its face within the Kremlin. It may turn out to be the only factor capable of preventing the country from sliding back into the times of one-party and one-man rule."

(Anthony Georgieff in Copenhagen contributed to this report.)