Bosnia Discussed at Jovial Summit for Clinton, YeltsonBy John F. Harris
The Washington Post
HYDE PARK, N.Y.
President Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin Monday met for a jovial summit in which the two leaders proclaimed agreement over the best way to resolve their latest sharp differences over Bosnia -- but to say nothing about them.
Clinton reported what he called "some progress" over the question of how Russian forces would fit 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 Monday. But both leaders expressed optimism that progress on the details on 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," said Clinton. 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 hysterics 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 Monday's summit ito "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 summt 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 lanning for the Bosnian force from the United Nations, and said that the proposed expansion of NATO eastward threatened to spark new conflict in Europe.
NATO expansion barely came up at the sessions, 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 Monday with his sour coments Sunday, Yeltsin scolded reporters: "You are underestimating the presidents of two great powers. Maybe you can't quite figure out how we solved it, but it came to us."
A U.S. official acknowledgedlater 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 geninely 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 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 emblazoed with the politically significant number "96."