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Yeltsin Appeals for American Aid
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, June 18, 1992; Page A01
Declaring that communism in Russia has collapsed never to rise again, Russian President Boris Yeltsin yesterday appealed to Congress and the American people to join his country in making the world "safe for democracy."
"We are facing challenges that no one has ever faced before," the 61-year-old leader told a joint session of Congress, after describing a country "devastated" by seven decades of communist rule. "We have no right to fail in this most difficult endeavor, for there will be no second try, as in sports. Our predecessors have used them all up. The reforms must succeed."
Yeltsin's ringing denunciation of communism and call for U.S. assistance in rebuilding Russia's shattered economy drew one of the most enthusiastic responses ever seen in Congress for a foreign leader. Billed in advance as the political highlight of the first formal U.S.-Russian summit since the collapse of communism, the speech was interrupted by nine standing ovations and chants of "Boris, Boris" from the packed House chamber.
Congressional leaders said Yeltsin's appearance had helped the chances for passage of the administration's aid bill for Russia and other states of the former Soviet Union, but there was no immediate move to schedule its formal consideration by either Senate or House. In a joint news conference with Yeltsin later in the day, President Bush called on the lawmakers to act quickly on the legislation "so that American support reaches Russia when it is needed most -- right now."
Sitting side by side at a table in the White House East Room, Bush and Yeltsin signed seven major documents that emerged from the summit, including an epochal "joint understanding" that slashes U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals to one-third the current level within 11 years, a "Charter for American-Russian Partnership and Friendship" and accords on space cooperation, economic cooperation and other topics.
A prominent topic in the day's discussions was Yeltsin's sensational report, first put forward in an NBC interview Monday on his airplane en route to Washington, that some Americans missing in action from the Vietnam War had been taken to the Soviet Union and some may still be alive there. Yeltsin declared in passionate terms to Congress yesterday that his government will search its archives for any information on Americans missing from any war and that "even if one American has been detained in my country, and can still be found, I will find him. I will get him back to his family."
Despite all the official and press speculation, aides to Yeltsin continued to say there is no documentary evidence that U.S. prisoners of war from Vietnam were transferred to Russia. Yeltsin himself in a letter last week to U.S. senators, which the Russian president reiterated yesterday contains all that is known on the subject, said that "no data" have been found in Soviet archives about Americans missing in action from Vietnam.
In a brief news conference on Capitol Hill, Yeltsin said through his official interpreter that the names of American prisoners from Vietnam who were transferred to the Soviet Union were found "amongst the 22,554 names" that a commission on U.S. prisoners has investigated. Yeltsin's letter to senators last week reported quite a different story, saying that 22,554 Americans who came into the hands of the Soviet army at the end of World War II were repatriated in 1945-46.
Bush said he has been given no documentary information by Yeltsin about U.S. prisoners in Russia, and both U.S. and Russian officials said privately yesterday they were baffled by some of Yeltsin's free-swinging statements on the subject.
Yeltsin also promised that he would produce any information that can be found about the downing by a Soviet fighter of Korean Air Lines Flight 007 on Sept. 1, 1983, in which 63 Americans were among those killed.
In his address to Congress and his later appearance with Bush in the White House East Room, Yeltsin went out his way to take issue with former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev and the reformist communism he espoused.
"The experience of the past decade has taught us that communism has no human face. Freedom and communism are incompatible," declared Yeltsin, the first Russian or Soviet leader ever to address a joint session of Congress.
Asked by reporters why Soviet leaders of the past would have wanted to keep Americans imprisoned secretly, Yeltsin replied curtly with a look of distaste on his face: "You have had a chance to ask this question of the former president of the former Soviet Union, why he kept this a secret. I'm not responsible for him."
A member of the Soviet Communist party for 29 years until his resignation in 1990, Yeltsin went much further than Gorbachev in explicitly embracing Western democratic values and rejecting his country's totalitarian past. He attacked policies of the former Kremlin leadership on issues ranging from aid to the Soviet-backed regime in Afghanistan, which he called "a puppet regime" kept in power by a "senseless military adventure," to commercial relations with Cuba, which he said are now based on "universally accepted principles and world prices."
The lawmakers broke into sustained applause when Yeltsin announced Russia had begun taking off alert its most devastating missiles, the land-based, multi-warhead SS-18s, that had been aimed at the United States and that are to be eliminated by 2003 under the new arms reduction pact. The move, which Yeltsin depicted as a goodwill gesture in advance of implementation of the arms accord, effectively deprives Russia of the ability to launch its most effective first-strike weapons at short notice.
The Russian leader won a standing ovation from Republican lawmakers when the English translation of his remarks implied that he hoped he and Bush would remain in office until the year 2000 to "preside" over dramatic cuts in nuclear weapons. The original Russian text avoided any suggestion that he was endorsing Bush's reelection. Yeltsin himself has promised not to run for reelection after his present term of office expires in 1996.
Yeltsin, who projected an image of robust good health during his nearly hour-long speech to Congress, went out of his way to explode rumors that he is in poor health and may be forced to step down before his term expires. "It is practically impossible to topple Yeltsin in Russia. I am in good health, and I will not say uncle before I make the reforms irreversible," he declared.
The signing ceremony at the White House was the culmination of months of negotiation by U.S. and Russian diplomats and, in a few cases, by the leaders themselves. In addition to the arms agreement announced Tuesday -- which is to be the framework for a treaty to be drafted later by technicians -- perhaps the most important accord was the Charter for American-Russian Partnership and Friendship, a document that the Russians had been eager to create because of a longstanding desire for statements of overarching principles.
The charter, which stated U.S. and Russian views in very general terms in the political, security and economic fields, is the successor to such Cold War-era documents as the U.S.-Soviet "Basic Principles of Mutual Relations" signed by President Richard M. Nixon and General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev in May 1972, and the Camp David Declaration on U.S.-Russian relations signed by Bush and Yeltsin last February after a meeting at the presidential retreat in Maryland.
One passage in the new charter committed the two nations to sponsor several initiatives to improve international means for preventing and containing such ethnic conflicts as the civil war in Yugoslavia. The document said Washington and Moscow will cooperate to create "a credible Euro-Atlantic peacekeeping capability," which suggests joint U.S.-Russian military operations in such circumstances.
A U.S.-Russian statement on a "global protection system" against limited ballistic missile strikes declared that the nations will work jointly to "develop the concept." U.S. officials made no secret of their desire to use the talks to explore the prospect for changes in the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which severely limits U.S. and Russian space defense activities, but a senior Russian official said there are no "plans" or "commitments" on his side to make such a change.
The possibility of realizing a missile protection system is for the Russians more a matter of economics than strategy, the official said. He added that unless Russia obtains access to U.S. high technology in the missile defense field -- something he said Washington dangled temporarily during the discussions -- there is little chance of Russian cooperation in this area.
Another document signed by the two leaders was an expanded space exploration agreement that provided for "consideration of" flying Russian cosmonauts aboard a U.S. space shuttle mission scheduled for October 1993 and sending U.S. astronauts on an extended flight aboard the Russian Mir space station in 1993. Bush and Yeltsin also agreed to pursue the possibility of docking the space shuttle with the Mir in 1994 or 1995.
Other agreements approved by the two nations eliminated the longstanding restrictions on travel by diplomats and journalists in the other's country and lifted the Cold War ceilings on the number of diplomats each country can station in the other country. Other pacts agreed to the opening of a U.S. consulate in Vladivostok and a Russian consulate in Chicago, and to the opening as soon as possible of a new air route across Russian territory connecting North America with the Far East.
Staff writers Helen Dewar, Kathy Sawyer and R. Jeffrey Smith contributed to this report.