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Chill Settles on Friendship of Former Cold War Foes
Thursday, January 2, 1997

By VANORA BENNETT, NORMAN KEMPSTER, Times Staff Writers

Diplomacy: New tensions between U.S., Russia complicate upcoming summit for Clinton and Yeltsin.

MOSCOW--For four enthusiastic years, Bill Clinton and Boris N. Yeltsin have pulled out all the stops to prove that the Cold War is really over and that the enmities that divided their countries in the past no longer apply.

"Bill-and-Boris" summits are little short of love-ins. President Clinton has played sax over dinner at Yeltsin's country home. He has served kasha, a traditional buckwheat dish, at a White House banquet honoring the Russian president. And Yeltsin has had Clinton stay over at the Kremlin.

Despite the cozy personal cooperation between the two men at the top, however, the relationship between their countries has hit a rocky patch. Unless the presidents can find a way to solve some of the problems at their planned 11th summit in March, it looks set to slide to real alienation.      

"There is a pause in Russian-American relations, where nothing positive is happening, though nothing negative is happening either," said Vyacheslav A. Nikonov, chairman of the Russian parliament's International Security and Arms Control Committee. "I would say the most important thing the summit could achieve would be to define a positive agenda for the future."

There are two problems to be tackled. First, old Cold War-era arms control issues linger on, needing to be negotiated away. Second, the search by a smaller, weaker, modern Russia for a role in Europe and the world as a whole has created new tensions with a more powerful Washington, glorying in its new position as the only remaining superpower.

Looming behind both issues--and souring the relationship--is disagreement over whether the North Atlantic Treaty Organization should expand into Eastern Europe, which used to be Soviet Moscow's stomping ground in the days of the Warsaw Pact.

Washington says yes, and NATO plans to incorporate its first new members by 1999. While Washington admits that the Russians are troubled by NATO enlargement because they are not part of it, and do not want what once was an enemy military bloc on their doorstep, a senior Clinton administration official said expansion is nevertheless set in concrete.      

The trick may be to "convince the Russians we really mean it," he said.      

Moscow says no. Defense Minister Igor N. Rodionov warned NATO in mid-December that expanding the alliance could doom other arms control treaties and resurrect zones of confrontation in Europe. Shocking the group's defense ministers, who had expected a more complaisant attitude, he added that it could "bring a return to the Cold War which we struggled so hard to end."      

Lawmaker Nikonov said: "Here it is quite obvious that Yeltsin will not compromise. Russia has not a single reason to support this expansion."      

Worry about NATO has created an atmosphere in which bilateral cooperation on nuclear, military, economic, trade, and crime and terrorism prevention issues is not moving ahead at the pace either side would like. On top of which, spy scandals, expulsions and arrests have reemerged.      

"The time remaining to arrest that trend before NATO enlargement further accelerates it is short," was the conclusion drawn by outgoing Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) and political analysts Robert Blackwill and Arnold Horelick after a recent trip to Russia. "If U.S.-Russian relations are to be improved, the initiative will have to come from the American side."      

The U.S. administration is positive that a new course can be set.      

"The leadership that is going to meet in March is starting anew," a senior administration official said. "This is a chance to say where we are going, a chance to deal with big challenges and make some decisions that will set the course for the next several years."      

But, talking from a position of strength, Washington has not yet offered the Russians any more attractive an option on NATO than biting the bullet and accepting Moscow's diminished status.      

Nunn and the analysts suggest that Russia be given firm guarantees about the pace, if not the extent, of NATO enlargement, saying that, if Moscow understood that there would be a long pause of five to 10 years between the admission of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic in 1999 and the later admission of states closer to Russia, it would find enlargement less intolerable.      

Other negotiations are stalling. The U.S. considers strategic weapons negotiations the most pressing issue to be sorted out at the summit. The second Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, signed by President Bush and Yeltsin, obligates both countries to cut their nuclear arsenals to between 3,000 and 3,500 warheads and bans land-based multiple-warhead missiles.      

Russia's anxiety about NATO expansion has prompted the parliament in Moscow to refuse to ratify the treaty. U.S. Defense Secretary William J. Perry, telling Russian lawmakers during an autumn visit that the two issues could not be linked, got a hostile reception.      

"Of course, hopes for ratification are ghostly in a situation of NATO expansion because many experts say the cheapest answer to any potential threat that might come from NATO is not cuts but just to leave those rockets where they are," Nikonov said.      

He was skeptical about the promise of a NATO-Russia charter--which Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny M. Primakov has pledged to consider--saying Moscow already has ties with NATO and is only being offered the same thing in a new form.      

"Certainly the Americans are interested in our ratifying START II as soon as possible. It will mean that the only country in the world that is still capable of destroying the United States in a matter of 30 minutes will stop posing serious potential danger to it," said Anatoly I. Utkin, head of the foreign policy department at Moscow's USA-Canada Institute.      

"The Americans are pushing us underwater," he said.      

Moscow is queasy about START II because it stipulates that none of the allowed nuclear weapons should be the ground-based multiple-warhead rockets that were the foundation of the Soviet arsenal. Russia does not have enough single-warhead missiles to deploy 3,000 of them and would have to spend billions of dollars to build up its arsenal to START II ceilings.      

Both U.S. and Russian officials agree that a possible way out of this dilemma is to move on quickly to a START III with further cuts.      

"START III would absolve them of having to build up just to maintain parity," the U.S. official said. "I think we are interested in START III as well. Secretary Perry has said the United States doesn't need as large a force" as START II allows. "He says the money can be better used elsewhere."      

Another old security worry is the U.S. demand for revisions in the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty to permit nuclear defense systems. Russia has balked at Washington's proposals. U.S. officials believe Russia's opposition is left over from the Cold War, when Soviet leaders were concerned that U.S. technological superiority would let the United States develop a missile defense system that would render Soviet offensive missiles useless.      

Russia's often-voiced wish to renegotiate the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, signed by NATO and the Warsaw Pact, is already being addressed.      

Moscow also has a long list of economic demands. It wants a more active American investment policy in Russia and is prepared to promise more economic reform to a slightly skeptical U.S. administration.      

Now that the Communist trade bloc has vanished, Moscow would like the United States to end restrictions on the transfer of technology, which were dictated in Cold War days by the need to restrict the flow of information to Soviet Bloc enemies.      

But Washington says Russia will have to open up more, giving foreign companies enforceable property rights, secure contracts and a new system of commercial law, before it can be integrated into what one official called the "North Atlantic economic zone" of the United States, Western Europe and northern nations such as Sweden, Finland and Canada.      

"There is a lot of resistance in Russia to taking those steps," the U.S. official said. "The vestiges of the old system are going to have to give way much more than they already have."      

But U.S. business people operating in Russia are more positive about the changes that are already taking place than are their diplomatic protectors in Washington.      

Karl Johansson, a director of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Moscow, wants Russia to make a more comfortable trading environment for Americans by sorting out a coherent tax code, guaranteeing property rights and adopting international accounting standards--but believes these changes are on the way.      

"We're seeing that gradually the barriers [to trade] are being taken down," said Johansson, who represents Ernst & Young in Moscow.      

Despite the horrifying crime and corruption stories that circulate in Moscow's foreign community, Johansson said these problems are an impediment to new, small businesses but not big enough to stop large companies such as Coca-Cola from operating.      

"Crime is a serious issue, but it doesn't have quite the direct impact that people might think," he said. "Crime is high in other parts of the world too."      

Big U.S. companies that started up in Moscow as one-person expatriate operations are now employing more local staff and moving into the Russian regions. Total direct foreign investment grew to $2 billion in 1995 from about $1 billion in 1994. U.S. companies accounted for about half the total investment last year.      

Johansson also welcomed the debut of Wall Street's first Russian company, VimpelCom, in November and would like to see more Russian companies listed. The cellular phone firm, which has 45,000 customers, attracted an impressive initial $110.7 million from investors.      

Suspicion and mistrust lurk on both sides of the Atlantic, although Moscow and Washington are eager to make their new relationship work. Strobe Talbott, deputy secretary of State and earlier the Clinton administration's special envoy to the former Soviet Union, says both sides must put aside the stereotypes of the past if current problems are to be overcome.      

"For our part, that means rejecting the notion that predatory behavior is somehow encoded in Russian genes and that Russia is simply a stunted USSR itching to return to its former size and ways," he wrote in Time magazine.      

"Similarly, the Russians must overcome the suspicion that America's real strategy is to weaken their country, even divide it. If Russians fall prey to conspiracy theories and old-think about American motives, such words as 'partnership' and 'cooperation' will, in their ears, sound like synonyms for appeasement, subservience and humiliation," he commented.      

"Human and natural resources, not just military might, are what will make Russia truly secure and influential in the new century. The Russian people and their leaders must believe that. They must also believe that we believe it, and that our policy toward them today is motivated by America's respectful and supportive hopes for their future."      

Bennett reported from Moscow and Kempster from Washington.
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