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Clinton Encourages Yeltsin To Negotiate Peace in Chechnya

By James Gerstenzang and Richard C. Paddock

Making a rare personal appeal before an audience of 53 world leaders, President Clinton on Thursday urged Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin to seek a negotiated peace in Chechnya. Yeltsin, defiant and defensive, said the West’s criticism is unacceptable while Russia is trying to end “the cancer of terrorism.”

In a raw public display of their differences over Moscow’s war in the separatist republic, which has produced a large number of civilian casualties, the two leaders showed little room for compromise.

“Nobody,” Yeltsin said, “should be under any illusions on this score: There will be no negotiations with bandits and murderers.”

Faced, however, with expressions of support for the U.S. position by one speaker after another at the summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, he agreed in the end to allow the head of the OSCE to visit Chechnya to assess the situation there.

Seeking to answer the Russian leader’s argument that the war in Chechnya is a domestic matter, Clinton spoke of the moment in 1991 when Yeltsin turned back an attempted coup against Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev.

“President Yeltsin,” Clinton said, looking directly at the ailing leader and pointing a finger, “one of the most thrilling experiences of my life as a citizen of the world, before I became president, was when you stood up on that tank in Moscow, when they tried to take the freedom of the Russian people away. And your standing there on that tank said to those people, ‘You can do this, but you’ll have to kill me first.’ ”

Using words he had written by hand shortly before his speech, Clinton continued: “If they had put you in jail instead of electing you president, I would hope that every leader of every country around this table would have stood up for you and for freedom in Russia and not said, “Well, that is an internal Russian affair that we cannot be a part of.’ ”