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Yeltsin Ends Official Snub of Nixon, Aides Say

March 13, 1994|SONNI EFRON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MOSCOW — In a face-saving finale to an embarrassing diplomatic tiff, Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin on Saturday declared that Moscow would no longer give an official cold shoulder to former U.S. President Richard Nixon, aides said.

Yeltsin himself will not receive Nixon because of the recent death of Yeltsin's mother-in-law, who was buried Saturday, the aides said. But government officials who had been under orders not to see Nixon will now be allowed to do so.

A Nixon adviser, Dmitri Simes, said a high-ranking Yeltsin aide had called on Nixon on Saturday to say that "President Yeltsin considered the incident of the past week to be closed." Simes said the 63-year-old Russian president is now urging government officials and members of Parliament to meet with the 81-year-old American.

Although Yeltsin's conciliatory step stopped far short of an apology, it was aimed at smoothing over a public snub of Nixon, who was one of Yeltsin's earliest and most loyal supporters.

It may also have been designed to soothe one of Yeltsin's oldest friends, national security adviser Oleg Lobov, who had officially invited Nixon to visit and then found himself embroiled in a diplomatic disaster.

Nixon's office released a statement saying Yeltsin had received messages from President Clinton and Senate Republican leader Bob Dole of Kansas, asking the Russian president to reconsider.

Nixon arrived in Moscow last Sunday having made it clear, both to the U.S. and Russian governments, that he was on a private fact-finding mission and intended to hold meetings with Russian opposition leaders--including Vladimir V. Zhirinovsky. The neo-fascist leader had been shunned by Clinton and Vice President Al Gore on recent visits to Moscow.

Clinton said he gave Nixon a green light to meet with anyone he liked and that he requested a report on the Russian political scene when Nixon returned home.

A meeting with Yeltsin had originally been scheduled for the beginning of Nixon's visit, Simes said. But when Yeltsin's aides switched the meeting to the end of Nixon's 10-day visit, Nixon proceeded to meet with opposition leaders.

This was a violation of protocol in Russia, where one is expected to pay one's respects to senior officials before venturing further. Most egregious, Nixon met Monday with Yeltsin's archenemy, Alexander V. Rutskoi, who was released just two weeks ago from Lefortovo Prison, where he had been held after leading last October's armed rebellion against Yeltsin.

Furious, Yeltsin appeared on television Wednesday to say that neither he nor any member of his government would receive Nixon.

"Russia is still a great country, and you cannot just play with it like that," Yeltsin said.

Prime Minister Viktor S. Chernomyrdin promptly canceled his meeting with Nixon, and economist Yegor T. Gaidar, head of the Russia's Choice bloc in Parliament, began to waffle.

At a reception Friday sparsely attended by Russian dignitaries, Nixon said he remained Yeltsin's friend and offered a toast to Clinton and Yeltsin as "partners not just for peace but also for freedom."

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