Clinton Defends Russia Trip As In U.S. Interest
Some say summit between the two embattled leaders should be canceled
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Aug. 31) -- Going forward with his controversial trip to Russia, President Bill Clinton said Monday he plans to urge Russia to stick to the path of economic reform during his upcoming summit with Russian President Boris Yeltsin.
"The reason I'm going to Russia is because we have learned the hard way that problems that develop beyond our borders sooner or later find their way to our doorstep unless we help our neighbors and friends to deal with them as quickly and promptly as possible," Clinton said earlier in the day at an education roundtable at a school in Herndon, Va.
The president and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton left the White House shortly before 3 p.m. ET for the two-day summit. Afterwards, the Clintons will travel to Ireland and Northern Ireland.
With Russia in the midst of its worst economic crisis since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the nation's political leadership is also in question.
It is unclear who will sit opposite the U.S. delegation at the negotiating table later this week as Russia's lower parliament voted Monday to reject Yeltsin's nomination for prime minister, Viktor Chernomyrdin.
Before departing, the American president urged the Russian people to continue the transition an open-market economy -- a path many Russians blame for the country's economic collapse.
"What I want to do is go there and tell them that the easy thing to do is not the right thing to do. The easy thing to do would be to try to go back to the way they did it before, and that's not possible," Clinton said.
"But if they will stay on the path of reform to stabilize their society and to strengthen their economy and to get growth back, then I believe America and the rest of the Western nations with strong economies should help them," the president said.
Russian President Boris Yeltsin
White House aides say Clinton is not going to Russia with any specific sum of money in mind and there are no plans for him offer additional economic assistance.
Because of the economic problems are causing political grief for Yeltsin, as well as the Monica Lewinsky scandal dogging Clinton, some lawmakers have called on Clinton not to go ahead with the summit. Among them are House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who said over the weekend the trip would be imprudent.
Addressing the criticism, Clinton made the case that it is in the best economic and security interests for him to proceed with the summit. He cited the remaining nuclear arsenal in Russia, plus the need for that country's cooperation to stabilize regional crises like the nuclear testing in India and Pakistan and the conflicts in Bosnia and Kosovo.
Some political and foreign policy figures agree, indicating a grudging support for the visit, though with a degree of uneasiness.
President George Bush's secretary of state, Lawrence Eagleburger, said canceling the summit in the face of Russia's economic and political woes would have sent a dangerous signal.
"If we were to postpone it or cancel it now ... it shows absolutely no faith at all in Yeltsin's future," Eagleburger said on CNN's "Late Edition." "Now, maybe he doesn't have one. But we don't need to be the people to put the knife in his back."
One of Clinton's top diplomats, U.N. Ambassador Bill Richardson, gave a ringing endorsement of the decision to go to Moscow, calling Gingrich's comment "unfounded."
"President Clinton is enormously popular around the world," Richardson said on "Late Edition." "We've got a foreign-policy president with a great record. Any nation, any world leader would give their right arm to have his [approval] numbers and his support.
"The trip is timely, it is important, and you don't have a weak leader in President Clinton," Richardson said.
Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Calif.) suggested no one knows the impact of Clinton's visit in advance.
"Dropping into the middle of a chaotic situation might do some significant good," Cox told CNN. "It might also be disruptive. The president seems to be committed to this course, so we will just hope for the best."