President Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin reached agreement Friday on a surprising array of security and economic issues, including further sharp reductions in the two nations' nuclear arsenals, after Yeltsin protested NATO expansion but agreed to negotiate a pact with the alliance.
In the most ambitious accord, the two countries agreed in principle to negotiate a new arms control treaty that over the next decade would reduce the number of deployed strategic warheads by about a third from the levels agreed to _ but not yet implemented _ by Yeltsin and President George Bush four years ago.
They also agreed to discuss "possible measures" to eliminate tactical or "battlefield" nuclear weapons. Yeltsin, in an unexpected move, agreed that all the anti-missile systems now under development by the U.S. military were admissible under the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Clinton, for his part, agreed to support Russia's integration into global economic institutions and to give it a more formal role in the Group of Seven leading industrialized nations.
What had seemed likely to be an incremental summit, bogged down by the seemingly endless dispute over the future of NATO, ended up offering the promise of unanticipated progress in a number of areas _ although many obstacles remain to be surmounted before all that promise is realized.
After months of bitterly opposing NATO's eastward expansion, Yeltsin indicated Friday that he no longer entertains any realistic hope of halting it. Now, he said, his aim is to "minimize the negative consequences" for Russia.
Yeltsin blasted the idea once again, calling it "a mistake, and a serious one at that." But in the negotiations he accepted a formula under which Russia would live with a NATO that included several former Soviet satellite states _ and then, rather than use his leverage on other issues to press Clinton on NATO, he went on to hold substantive negotiations on a range of matters, most notably arms control.
Formal talks on the projected "Start III" treaty slashing nuclear arsenals would begin only after Russia's recalcitrant parliament ratified the START II agreement, but Yeltsin promised to press for ratification and said other agreements announced Friday would strengthen his hand.
The most important of those was a surprising breakthrough on the thorny issue of short-range missile defense systems. After three years in which negotiators for the two sides failed to agree on a definition of "theater" missile defenses that would not violate the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, they suddenly resolved the issue Friday in a way that U.S. officials said would permit deployment of all six missile interceptor systems under development by the Pentagon.
Asked at a news conference following the daylong summit how he now could ensure START II ratification by the Duma, or parliament, Yeltsin replied through an interpreter, "As far as Russia is concerned, I expect that the State Duma will make a decision based on my advice."
"Boy, I wish I could give that answer," Clinton responded.
In reality, according to analysts of Russian affairs here, Yeltsin does not control the Duma, which has been antagonistic to START II. Some elements of Friday's agreements seemed to address the Duma's previous objections to the treaty. On the other hand, Yeltsin's effective acquiescence to NATO expansion _ which is overwhelmingly opposed by Russia's political leaders _ may help strengthen his opponents in the Duma and even stiffen opposition to START II.
The agreements that were announced after eight hours of talks left Clinton's senior foreign policy advisers almost giddy over what they had accomplished.
Just a few months ago, an ailing Yeltsin appeared to be losing his grip on a country riven by the war in Chechnya and on a government in which economic reformers supported by Washington were in retreat. Today, the war in Chechnya is over, a re-elected Yeltsin appears vigorous again, and the reformers are back in power. Clinton's senior aides made little effort to conceal their satisfaction.
"We have just concluded a major summit in which there was historic progress in European security, nuclear arms reduction and economic cooperation with Russia," Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said. "What we have seen today is an exercise in statesmanship at the highest levels _ two presidents who have not agreed on everything but have showed true leadership and cemented their cooperation."
Yeltsin did not back down from his objection to the enlargement of the North Atlantic alliance, which was formed to defend western Europe against the Soviet Union, but he proclaimed himself eager to consign the Cold War to history and work with the Western allies in forging a new security arrangement for all of Europe.
Exactly as Clinton and his foreign policy advisers had hoped, the Russian leader accepted as inevitable the fact that the Atlantic alliance will grow this summer by extending membership to Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. Yeltsin abandoned his insistence that the proposed "charter" spelling out relations between Russia and NATO be a ratifiable treaty, settling instead for "an enduring commitment at the highest political level."