All Smiles and No Sparks Take Focus off Summit

TIME was, when Moscow-Washington summits set the agenda for world politics and gripped international attention for weeks on end.

These days they are almost routine. Russian President Boris Yeltsin's upcoming two-day meeting with President Clinton has provoked scarcely any comment here at all.

There could be few better illustrations of how harmonious and cooperative relations have become between the two traditional adversaries than the lack of drama surrounding next week's summit.

Despite recent schisms on Bosnia policy and Russian reservations about Mr. Clinton's initial plans to invade Haiti, talks between the two leaders are expected to be anything but confrontational.

Russian-United States summits ``have ceased to be fateful. Behind the indifferent attitude toward them, there lies a gigantic positive change: They don't resolve issues of war and peace or life and death anymore,'' political commentator Stanislav Kondrashov wrote Wednesday in the Izvestia daily.

Refreshed after an extended Black Sea vacation, President Yeltsin will meet with Clinton in Washington on Tuesday and Wednesday, following the Russian leader's Monday address to the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

Confident that his economic reform policies are on track and that political stability has set in, a calm, self-assured Yeltsin is not expected to focus on major foreign policy issues or beg for US aid during the talks. Instead, he will concentrate on increasing US trade and investment in Russia.

Thomas Pickering, the US Ambassador to Moscow, told the Rossiiskiye Vesti newspaper that US investment in Russia was hindered by unusually high export taxes, red tape, crime, and corruption, as well as the lack of a solid infrastructure to protect US capital. ``If these obstacles are removed, private capital will flow willingly into Russia,'' he told the newspaper's Thursday edition in comments translated into Russian.

As a goodwill gesture to encourage a positive business climate, Clinton announced this week that he will grant Russia an automatic waiver on the Jackson-Vanik amendment, a cold-war-era law that linked trade laws to emigration policies.

In return, the US president is expected to appeal to Russia's parliament to ratify the 1993 START II treaty, which sharply reduces Russia's arsenal of long-range nuclear missiles. He will also offer Yeltsin more money to dismantle the missiles, beyond the $60 million sent already to Moscow and an additional $200 million appropriated for reducing the number of weapons.

Russian parliamentarians, however, have warned that the treaty is in trouble, saying such reductions are currently too much for Russia's already strained economy to bear.

The two leaders will also discuss safeguarding Russia's nuclear weapons cache, which has become an uncomfortable sticking point for Moscow following accusations by Western officials that weapons-grade plutonium is being smuggled out of Russia.

Nuclear issues will also figure prominently during Yeltsin's address the UN General Assembly.

The Russian leader is expected to propose new ways of stopping the spread of nuclear arms and biological and chemical weapons, his national security adviser, Yuri Baturin, told the Itar-Tass news agency. Mr. Baturin said that Yeltsin is concerned that regional and ethnic conflicts could lead to the use of ``weapons of mass destruction.''

He will also outline his vision of Russia as a great power, touching on Russia's perceived role as preeminent ``peacekeepers'' in the near abroad, specifically the former Soviet republics of Moldova, Tajikistan, and Georgia.

Russian peacekeeping, one of the key issues under discussion at the 53-nation Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, will also be discussed during two days of talks between Yeltsin and British Prime Minister John Major in London before Yeltsin flies to New York.

In a rare departure from the usual friendly rhetoric, Russia's foreign intelligence chief warned Wednesday that some Western forces were objecting to Russia's peacekeeping activities in order to keep Moscow down.

In a press conference apparently timed to coincide with the summit, Yevgeny Primakov told reporters that influential Western circles were trying to curb Russia's weight in former Soviet republics by encouraging ``neo-isolationist forces'' in Russia and its neighbors.

Mr. Primakov warned that if Western capitals continued to hinder what he called a trend toward greater unity among republics in the Commonwealth of Independent States, ``a certain cooling will take place in relations between these capitals and Moscow.''

Despite such pronouncements, Yeltsin arrives in the US without the cold-war baggage of his predecessors.

When Clinton came to Moscow for summit talks in January, he broke tradition by staying at an American-owned hotel instead of in the American ambassadorial residence. Signaling the new relations between the two countries, Yeltsin will abandon the Russian mission in Washington in favor of a US presidential guest house.

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