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On Matter of Russian Aid, It's Debatable

October 07, 2000|From a Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Has President Clinton been taking foreign policy advice from Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush?

In the debate earlier this week between Bush and his Democratic foe, Al Gore, the Texas governor suggested that the United States ask Russia to intercede on behalf of democracy in Yugoslavia--only to draw withering criticism from the vice president.

On Friday, it turned out that Clinton had already asked Russia to do pretty much what Bush suggested. And the Bush campaign seized the chance to crow that its man had been right all along.

"What the governor said was that the Russians ought to step up, they ought to tell [Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic to go," Bush advisor Condoleezza Rice said in a conference call with reporters. ". . . That's exactly what the administration was doing.

"Either [Gore] didn't know, or he deliberately just said something for political purposes to mock Gov. Bush when he knew Gov. Bush was making the right point . . . both of which would belie his claim to tremendous expertise in foreign policy," she said.

Gore spokesman Douglas Hattaway insisted the vice president was right. "At the debate, he said we should be careful about inviting Russia to mediate because Russia was supporting a runoff election, which was not the U.S. position. Gov. Bush did not seem to understand that very important point," he said.

Here's what Bush said Tuesday:

"This would be an interesting moment for the Russians to step up and lead as well. It would be a wonderful time for the president of Russia to step into the Balkans and convince Mr. Milosevic it's in his best interest and his country's best interest to leave office."

Gore responded:

"Now I understand what the governor has said about asking the Russians to be involved, and under some circumstances that might be a good idea. But being as they have not yet been willing to recognize [opposition leader Vojislav] Kostunica as the lawful winner of the election, I'm not sure that it's right for us to invite the president of Russia to mediate this dispute there, because we might not like the result that comes out of that. . . . I think we need to be very careful in the present situation before we invite the Russians to play the lead role in mediating."

Clinton said Friday that he had urged Russian President Vladimir V. Putin to get involved in the Yugoslav situation, as long as it was on the right side.

"We had been urging them all along, not to try to mediate . . . [but] to take a clear and unambiguous stand for what was the evident result of the election," Clinton said. "That's what we've urged them to do, because we know that they could have a positive impact if they do that."

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