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Clinton, Yeltsin Huddle on Bosnia
By John F. Harris
HYDE PARK, N.Y., OCT. 23 -- President Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin today met for a jovial summit in which the two leaders proclaimed agreement over the best way to resolve their latest sharp differences over Bosnia: say nothing about them.
Clinton reported what he called "some progress" over the question of how Russian forces would fit in with what is proposed to be a large NATO force to go to Bosnia if the warring parties there reach a peace settlement, but he refused to elaborate.
Yeltsin has said he will not tolerate putting Russian troops under NATO command, and he did not back off from that position today. But both leaders expressed optimism that progress on the details of how to run the peace force could be achieved when Defense Secretary William J. Perry and his Russian counterpart, Pavel Grachev, meet later this week.
And that, both leaders asserted, was all they cared to say about unpleasant differences at a meeting that they said otherwise flowed with good feeling.
"The more we say about this the worse things will be," Clinton said.
The Hudson Valley home of Franklin D. Roosevelt was in full autumn glory for the summit, which began with a bear hug between the two leaders and ended with a rollicking joint news conference in which Yeltsin referred repeatedly to his good friend "Bill." Yeltsin sent Clinton into barely controllable laughter with a curmudgeonly dismissal of the Russian and U.S. differences.
The Russian leader said he had read the news reports about how the split could turn today's summit into "a disaster" and confessed that he had arrived here filled with "a lot of apprehensions." But, full of good cheer afterward, he told reporters he had reached a different conclusion: "Now for the first time I can tell you that you (journalists) are a disaster."
"Be sure you get the right attribution there," Clinton said, his body shaking with laughter.
It wasn't clear before the summit that all would be so jolly. At his speech in New York on Sunday for the 50th anniversary of the United Nations, Yeltsin had complained that NATO was improperly taking over planning for the Bosnian force from the United Nations and that the proposed expansion of NATO eastward threatened to spark new conflict.
The issue of NATO expansion barely came up at the sessions today, U.S. officials said, as the nearly four hours of meetings between the two leaders concentrated on Bosnia. And here the two leaders made a calculated, stubborn decision to accentuate the positive.
"We agreed today that Russian armed forces will participate in these (peacekeeping operations)," said Yeltsin, although the question of whether -- never mind how -- had been regarded as solved long ago.
Trying to reconcile his optimism today with his sour comments Sunday, Yeltsin scolded reporters: "You are underestimating the presidents of two great powers. Maybe you can't quite figure out how we solve it, but it came to us."
A U.S. official acknowledged later that the two were being "somewhat Delphic" but said that was intentional. While the differences haven't been solved, one senior administration official said, there remains the possibility that Perry and Grachev, who will meet in Washington on Friday, can stitch together some sort of patchwork arrangement that will satisfy both sides.
For the United States, the issue is keeping military command and control tightly under NATO authority. The Pentagon regards dispersal of authority as a recipe for a military disaster, particularly if the United Nations is in charge. Russia, meanwhile, is intent on avoiding the humiliation of putting its forces under NATO command.
"It is a military question of how you can resolve the difference here," said a senior administration official.
The idea of having the summit here at FDR's ancestral home, U.S. officials said, was to pay homage to the cooperation between the Soviet Union and the United States in defeating Nazi Germany during World War II. Yeltsin seemed genuinely impressed by what he called "this most lovely place to host such a meeting," a setting that included the Roosevelt family's large stucco mansion, its wide lawns, and exquisite vistas of the Hudson Valley and the golden fall foliage.
As a welcoming gift, Clinton gave Yeltsin a copy of FDR's famous "fireside chats," translated into Russian. Yeltsin presented Clinton with two Moscow Penguins hockey jerseys, one with Clinton's name and the other with Yeltsin's, and both emblazoned with the politically significant number "96."
The two leaders also agreed they would work together to pass a comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty with no loopholes next year, which Clinton described as a "major, major step" toward the treaty's enactment.
Clinton meets Tuesday with Chinese President Zemin Jiang. The meeting had been scheduled for the New York Public Library, but its location was changed abruptly today, at Chinese insistence, to Lincoln Center.
A Chinese advance team, U.S. officials said, was miffed when during its tour of the library it discovered a multimedia display entitled "What Price Freedom" that contained denunciations of the Chinese government's violent suppression in 1989 of the protest at Tiananmen Square.