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Clinton to Mark Nazis' Defeat with U.S. Vets, Then Yeltsin

By John M. Broder and Sonni Efron
Los Angeles Times

President Clinton, trying to mollify American war veterans and buttress Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin, will preside over ceremonies here on May 8 marking the 50th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany, then fly overnight to Moscow to participate in Russia's V-E Day observances on May 9, the White House said Monday.

After deliberating for weeks on whether to accept Yeltsin's invitation to Russia's events as Russian troops are violently suppressing a rebellion in the southern province of Chechnya, the White House decided to go to Moscow over the weekend after Yeltsin promised the ceremonies would include a minimum of military pomp.

Clinton's jet-age scheduling legerdemain claimed one victim - British Prime Minister John Major, who had hoped that Clinton would participate in activities in London on May 8. The snub compounds the offense Major reportedly took over Clinton's lavish entertainment last week of Gerry Adams, leader of Sinn Fein, the political arm of the outlawed Irish Republican Army.

Rather than journey to London, Clinton will mark the anniversary at Arlington National Cemetery with "U.S. veterans, their families, and their loved ones," said White House spokesman Mike McCurry.

To soften the blow to Britain, the White House announced that Major would receive two consolations - an invitation to Washington for a working visit with Clinton on April 3-4 and a V-E Day visit from Vice President Al Gore on May 8.

The United States, Britain and France celebrate the end of World War II in Europe on May 8; the Russians on May 9.

Gore also will attend events marking the end of World War II in Europe in Paris and Berlin.

Clinton spoke with Major over the weekend to explain his decision to go to Moscow and to schedule the April visit to symbolize the "very special and warm" relationship between Britain and the United States, McCurry said.

Aides said Clinton concluded that it was critical to stand beside Yeltsin at a time when the Russian leader is feeling increasing hostility from the West as a result of the misadventure in Chechnya, Moscow's opposition to the eastward expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and faltering economic reform efforts at home.

And Yeltsin has let it be known publicly and privately that he and the Russian people would consider it an unforgivable insult should Clinton fail to show.

"For Clinton not to come would mean further damage to Yeltsin and further isolation for Russia," said John D. Steinbruner, director of foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution. "Yeltsin's relationship with Clinton is his major political asset Their mere appearance together will reaffirm a degree of normalcy in the relationship."

U.S. and Russian officials said the two-day Clinton-Yeltsin summit would cover the gamut of bilateral and global issues, including U.S. displeasure over the war in Chechnya and Russia's sale of nuclear power technology to Iran; European security issues; dismantling Russian and U.S. nuclear weapons; and progress toward economic and political reform in Russia.

Clinton also will describe for Yeltsin the political changes in Washington that will make it more difficult to provide the billions of dollars in economic aid that Clinton had pledged to assist the conversion of the Russian economy, aides said.

Clinton will stop in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, on his way back to Washington. There, aides said, he will meet with President Leonid Kuchma to discuss Western aid issues, retiring nuclear weapons and Ukraine's efforts to prevent the secession of the Crimea, whose Russian ethnic majority wants to create an independent state allied with Russia.