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Broader NATO May Bring 'Cold Peace,' Yeltsin Warns : Europe: Russian president accuses U.S. of being power hungry. Speech comes as nations finalize nuclear treaty.

December 06, 1994|NORMAN KEMPSTER and DEAN E. MURPHY | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

BUDAPEST, Hungary — Caustically suggesting that Washington wants to run the world, Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin told President Clinton on Monday that a U.S.-led plan to expand NATO threatens to plunge Europe "into a cold peace."

"History demonstrates that it is a dangerous delusion to suppose that the destinies of continents and of the world community in general can somehow be managed from one single capital," Yeltsin said in his speech to a summit of the 53-nation Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Yeltsin's speech rekindled Cold War tensions on a day in which the United States, Russia and three other former Soviet republics finally completed the complex ratification process for the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks treaty signed in 1991 after a decade of U.S.-Soviet negotiations. The treaty requires destruction of almost half of the nuclear weapons in the Washington and Moscow arsenals.

Yeltsin's outburst--combined with an anguished protest from Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic that the failure of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the United Nations to prevent Serbian aggression in Bosnia-Herzegovina has discredited the United Nations and ruined NATO--struck a discordant note in what otherwise was a bland but optimistic assessment of the past successes and future prospects of the CSCE, an organization of European and North American countries created two decades ago as a Cold War bridge between East and West.

The Russian president spoke immediately after Clinton delivered an upbeat assessment of post-Cold War Europe, saying that the blood-soaked 20th Century can give way to a new century of peace and prosperity.

"The end of the Cold War presents us with the opportunity to fulfill the promise of democracy and freedom," Clinton said.

But Washington's chosen instrument for ensuring European security in the 21st Century--a gradual expansion to the East of the 16-nation NATO--drew a blunt rebuke from Yeltsin.

"We hear explanations to the effect that this is allegedly the expansion of stability, just in case there are undesirable developments in Russia," Yeltsin said sarcastically. "If the objective is to bring NATO up to Russia's borders, let me say one thing: It is too early to bury a democratic Russia."

U.S. officials generally offered a low-key response to Yeltsin's comments. One senior official suggested that the remarks were directed at Russian public opinion, while other officials said that Yeltsin and other Russian leaders take a much more relaxed view of NATO expansion in private than Yeltsin's speech would imply.

Western European officials also downplayed the harsh implications of Yeltsin's remarks. "It was very moderate and almost philosophical; it was the minimum that a Russian president would have to say in such a situation," one German diplomat said.

But Central Europeans knocking eagerly at NATO's door said they fear that Yeltsin is bent on slowing down, if not stopping, the Atlantic Alliance's eastward expansion. Without mentioning Russia by name, Polish President Lech Walesa said no country should be given veto power over another country's application to NATO, sentiments echoed by Clinton in his remarks.

One Central European diplomat said former Warsaw Pact members fear that Yeltsin's tough talk could introduce a new element of uncertainty into NATO's expansion plans at a time when the alliance can ill-afford more turmoil.

"He may just want to delay any new members from joining NATO," a Hungarian diplomat said. "But in this world, when you delay something, who knows what could happen in the meantime?"

Clinton and Yeltsin emphasized cooperation and camaraderie during the separate ceremony marking the final approval of the START I treaty. The pact was signed in 1991 by former President George Bush and former Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev just before the Soviet Union disintegrated.

The effective date of the treaty was held up by the Ukrainian Parliament, which only last month agreed to renounce nuclear weapons and join the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Under a plan worked out in May, 1992, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus--the three non-Russian republics that held Soviet nuclear weaponry--agreed to go non-nuclear, leaving Russia with all of the arms the treaty allowed the Soviet Union to keep. Kazakhstan and Belarus had ratified the agreement earlier.

The final approval of START I clears the way for ratification by the U.S. Senate and the Russian Parliament of START II, signed in 1993, which requires the United States and Russia to reduce total nuclear warheads to no more than 3,500, less than one-third of the Cold War level. Clinton and Yeltsin also agreed to begin negotiations for additional reductions once START II is ratified.

"Today we herald the arrival of a new and safer era," Clinton said. He said the steps "amount to one great stride to reduce the nuclear threat to ourselves and to our children."

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