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Bush Due to Pledge Global Effort to Aid Ex-Soviet Republics : Emergency: But 47-nation talks on food and medical help for Russia, neighbors aren't expected to produce any major surprises.

January 22, 1992|DOUGLAS JEHL and DOYLE McMANUS | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — President Bush is expected today to promise an international effort to provide the former Soviet republics with enough food and medicine to survive the winter and to detail a U.S. initiative to support continued economic reforms, Administration officials said Tuesday.

But Bush, who will speak at the opening of a 47-nation conference on emergency aid to the former Soviet Union, does not plan to offer any major increase in the almost $4 billion that the United States has already pledged in loans and other aid to Russia and its neighbors, the officials said.

U.S., European and Japanese officials all said their governments believe that existing aid programs are sufficient to enable the government of Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin to survive the winter without famine or epidemic. They agreed that the two-day meeting is unlikely to produce much more.

"We do not expect to offer large-scale financial support," said Japanese spokesman Seiji Morimoto.

Instead, the officials said, the conference will attempt to coordinate existing aid programs--and, perhaps to convince the Russian people that help is on the way. "It's important that we send them a message of hope," Secretary of State James A. Baker III told reporters. ". . . That's what we're all about."

In keeping with that theme, the many foreign ministers attending the meeting plan speeches highlighting the aid that they have already pledged, diplomats said. Besides the U.S. aid program, Japan has promised $2.5 billion and Germany has pledged $37 billion, although much of the German aid has gone to pay for withdrawal of former Soviet troops from what was East Germany.

In his speech opening the conference, Bush plans to offer new details of a proposed U.S. initiative to help the former Soviet republics adopt economic reforms and embrace a free market, officials said.

They said that the proposal will involve some modest U.S. spending as an incentive for the republics to move more quickly toward economic reform. But descriptions of the plan suggested that it will fall far short of the $20 billion that some Russian officials have proposed as the level of aid they need to transform their economy.

Bush also will reaffirm his readiness to spend $400 million provided by Congress to assist the republics in dismantling nuclear weapons, the officials said. But they said the President has not decided on specific proposals to provide aid to former Soviet nuclear scientists to dissuade them from working for Iran, Libya or other countries seeking to build atomic weapons.

On the meeting's eve, Baker met with the foreign ministers of Germany and Japan, whose financial contributions will be crucial to any aid effort. His talks appeared aimed partly at ensuring that the conference does not turn into a finger-pointing exercise in which some countries accuse others of failing to provide their fair share.

When Baker first announced the conference last month, German officials complained that their country had given more than any other and French officials said that the Bush Administration had no right to assert leadership on the issue.

After several rounds of U.S.-European talks, the blame-slinging was suspended and the visiting officials have been careful to avoid comparing their aid programs. "People got a little bit tense when this thing was first announced, but everyone has pretty much cooled off by now," one U.S. official said.

Partly to maintain the cordial atmosphere, Baker decided not to invite the Russians or other republics to the meeting. "We did not want a competitive situation to develop, where the states would be competing with each other for support," he said.

Administration officials downplayed the prospect that Saudi Arabia, Japan or other nations might use the meeting to unveil substantial new aid commitments to the republics.

U.S. senators who returned Tuesday from a tour of a once-secret "atomic city" in Russia said that officials there appealed for U.S. financial aid to complete a plant to convert weapons-grade plutonium into fuel for nuclear power plants.

"It may be an area where the Russians are significantly ahead of us," said Sen. Jim Exon (R-Neb.), who led the Senate delegation to the "closed city" of Chelyabinsk, which does not even appear on maps put out by the former Soviets. Exon said the senators wanted to check with American scientists before deciding whether to support allocation of U.S. funds to finish work on the plant.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), a delegation member, said that the United States should consider the Russian offer to convert the weapons-grade plutonium into nuclear fuel for civilian reactors. The U.S. government could encourage private joint ventures with the Russians, Levin said.

Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) said that the Air Force plane that took the senators to Chelyabinsk was the first American aircraft ever to land in the isolated city, whose existence had been a secret.

Times staff writer William J. Eaton contributed to this report.

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