A Grim Thumbs Up for US-Russian Partnership

Vladivostok talks aim to restore ties after spy scandal, NATO strains

THE cold war may be over, but increasingly icy relations between the United States and Russia have reasserted themselves as the two countries strive to redefine their changing roles in a new global order.

US Secretary of State Warren Christopher met yesterday with his Russian counterpart, Andrei Kozyrev, in the far eastern city of Vladivostok for talks intended to heal relations bruised by spy scandals, disputes over mediating the Bosnian war, NATO policy, and other issues.

The brief visit stressed continued cooperation and concentrated on the Middle East, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and the Partnership for Peace program, Washington's plan for closer military links with former Warsaw Pact members.

But the real focus for Russia was to let the world know that although it remains determined to cooperate with Washington, it will never allow the US to take the center role alone on the world stage.

``Relations between a superpower and a regional power or between a senior partner and a junior partner are not acceptable to us,'' Foreign Minister Kozyrev said before flying to the Pacific seaboard, reiterating his country's new assertive foreign policy stance.

He softened his tone in Vladivostok, telling reporters upon his arrival that bilateral relations were too important to be neglected.

In it together

``Wits say, `The honeymoon is over, but the marriage remains.' There is no way we can abandon this marriage,'' he said, according to Reuters. ``The honeymoon has passed, and the day-to-day routine is beginning.''

The last month has seen a rapid deterioration in relations between the US and Russia, which following the end of the cold war seemed to have embarked on a new path of cooperation.

Russia was insulted when NATO allies, led by the US, issued an ultimatum to the Bosnian Serbs, whom it perceives to be Slavic brethren. Russia's disdain did not subside completely even after Moscow scored a diplomatic coup by helping mediate the Bosnian war.

Emboldened by the Bosnia success, last week Kozyrev flew to Israel and Tunisia to meet leaders of the Palestinian Liberation Organization. Russia had long been excluded from the Middle East peacemaking process because of US diplomacy.

Relations were further strained after Washington arrested American CIA employee Aldrich Ames for spying for Russia.

And they reached the limit last week when President Boris Yeltsin refused to meet with former US President Richard Nixon after he chose to meet first with former Vice President Alexander Rutskoi and Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, two of Mr. Yeltsin's most vociferous opponents.

Commenting on the deteriorating situation last week in an interview with the Izvestia newspaper, Kozyrev suggested that economic and social turmoil in Russia over the past two years had allowed Washington to take the lead in world affairs.

``There is a dangerous illusion standing in the way of the partnership,'' he warned. ``This is a maniacal desire to see but one leading power in the world - the United States - to proclaim America's leading role at every opportunity.''

But beyond the rhetoric and touchiness, there are signs that the two countries are seeking to rebuild mutual trust and cooperation.

Following his meeting with Kozyrev, Mr. Christopher told reporters that the two countries were working to build a ``mature relationship'' of equals.

``We recognize that as very large nations with large interests, we are bound to have differences. But we pledge to deal with our differences openly,'' he said.

`Still a great power'

In a similar vein, Mr. Nixon, who helped mold the policy of detente, sought to mollify criticism of his controversial Moscow visit by telling parliamentarians that the US perceives Russia as a ``great power'' with the right to chart its own foreign policy.

``Some say the cold war is over and that Russia has lost. That's not true. The Russians did not lose the cold war. Democratic Russia gave a knock-out blow to Soviet Communism, and it was Soviet Communism that lost,'' Nixon said in an address to the State Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee. ``Russia is and was a great power, and Russian-American relations are the most important relations the United States has with any nation in the world.''

Nixon is expected to travel tomorrow to Ukraine for a one-day visit, which will include talks with Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.

His visit will precede a short trip by US Defense Secretary William Perry, who begins a six-day visit to Russia, Kazakhstan, and Belarus as well as the Ukraine tomorrow, according to a US Defense Department report.

Yeltsin, meanwhile, flew yesterday to the Black Sea resort of Sochi for a working vacation that could last as long as two weeks, Itar-Tass said. He said he expects Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and other members of the government to join him later to work on economic issues.

Last week, Yeltsin told Russian television that he pinned high hopes on the meeting between Christopher and Kozyrev.

``The Vladivostok meeting should demonstrate that the Russian-American partnership should and will be preserved,'' he said.

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