Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 57

The Russian-U.S. summit in Helsinki got off to an amicable enough start yesterday, as President Boris Yeltsin sounded a conciliatory note upon his arrival in the Finnish capital while Bill Clinton was described as optimistic following a dinner for the two delegations hosted by Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari that evening. "I think that both Bill Clinton and his team have the same attitude towards finding constructive approaches and compromises to all controversial questions, so that we can depart again as friends," Yeltsin said in remarks to reporters.

The Russian president’s moderate tone was a far cry from the sharp criticism that he had leveled at the U.S. and NATO over the week that preceded yesterday’s summit start. But, Yeltsin’s remarks notwithstanding, there was little to indicate that the two sides were any closer on the issue of NATO enlargement. In his own remarks to reporters yesterday, Russian presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky continued the Kremlin’s assault on the Western alliance’s expansion plans, and said that it was unlikely the summit would yield a breakthrough on the NATO issue. Following a 45-minute meeting of the Russian and U.S. foreign ministers, American officials appeared to concur. They said that major differences remained for the two presidents to work out in their meetings today. (Reuter, Interfax, AP, March 20)

In addition to Russian-NATO relations, the two presidents are also expected to discuss economic and arms control issues today. With regard to the economic issues, U.S. officials indicated that Clinton would urge Moscow to implement significant changes in Russia’s legal and tax treatment of commercial properties and investments. In return, Clinton is reportedly prepared to offer "a package of incentives for U.S. investors to respond to those changes." (Reuter, March 20)

Clinton is also reported to have brought with him a package of arms control proposals that U.S. and Russian experts have been working on for six weeks. A U.S. official said the package reflected the Clinton Administration’s "outer limits" of flexibility, and that it would be up to Yeltsin to approve or reject them. A key U.S. concession in the package would permit Russia an additional several years beyond the 2003 deadline to destroy the silos of strategic nuclear missiles banned under the terms of the START II Treaty, although nuclear warheads would have to be removed from the missiles on schedule. In return, Clinton reportedly wants a commitment from Yeltsin that the treaty will be ratified by Russia’s parliament this spring. (AP, March 20) Washington has already expressed its interest in deeper reductions of nuclear weapons — a START III Treaty — once Russia ratifies the START II accord.

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