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Yeltsin OKs Chechen Intervention

November 18, 1999

ISTANBUL, Turkey (AP) _ President Clinton today warned Russian President Boris Yeltsin against feeding an ``endless cycle of violence″ with his military offensive in Chechnya. Yeltsin, at first defying international involvement, later agreed to allow a European official to visit the war-torn region, German diplomats said.

Yeltsin told world leaders at the opening session of a 54-nation European summit not to criticize his fight against ``bandits and murders.″ He departed early, shortly after seeing Clinton. German diplomats said the Russian leader agreed to accept a European review of the situation in Chechnya.

The Russian shift means ``the way is free to sign″ a new Charter on European Security that sets a 21st century course for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said Andreas Michaelis, a German Foreign Ministry spokesman.

Before the Germans reported progress, Clinton told reporters Yeltsin was ``very vigorous and so was I,″ in discussing the military offensive.

``I urged him to try to listen to Russia’s friends at this conference,″ Clinton said. ``I’m hopeful we will see some progress here before we leave.″ The conference ends Friday.

Clinton’s national security adviser, Samuel Berger, told reporters that Chechyna took up about half of the one-hour meeting with Yeltsin, and that he did not detect any indication that Yeltsin had changed his mind. ``It began and ended by President Yeltsin telling President Clinton that he owed him a visit to Moscow,″ Berger said.

At the opening OSCE session, Clinton warned that, ``if the attacks on civilians continue, the extremism Russia is trying to combat will only intensify.″ Clinton, trying to register American disapproval without offending Yeltsin, said the United States believes ``Russia has not only the right, but the obligation to defend its territorial integrity,″ yet the world should not stand by idly as the toll on civilians mounts. He said Moscow is mistaken to address the Chechen problem with military force alone.

``The strength Russia rightly is striving to build could be eroded by an endless cycle of violence,″ Clinton said.

Addressing the same forum just minutes before Clinton, Yeltsin offered a tough defense of his military offensive in the breakaway region and rejected American and other international criticism as ``humanitarian interference″ in Russian’s internal affairs.

``You have no right to criticize Russia for Chechnya,″ Yeltsin told the leaders at the meeting. The often-ill Yeltsin appeared vigorous and steady.

Afterwards, Yeltsin and Clinton held their first meeting since June, with Yeltsin giving Clinton a bear hug. Yeltsin adviser Sergei Prikhodko said the leaders discussed Chechnya, arms control and other issues.

``Yeltsin conveyed the Russian vision of that problem, talked about the government’s efforts to normalize the life in regions freed from rebels,″ Prikhodko said.

A short distance outside the summit venue, about 100 protesters, mainly from two small leftist parties, protested. Demonstrators burned the American flag and carried banners saying, ``Yankee go home!″ the Anatolia news agency reported.

Later, Clinton watched as the leaders of Turkey, Azerbaijan and Georgia signed a historic agreement to build a pipeline that would send the oil riches of the Caspian Sea to international markets without going through Russia or Iran. Russia sees the accord as Washington encroaching on a Russian sphere of influence.

Russia also strongly objects to the Clinton administration’s insistence that the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty be amended to permit the United States to build a nationwide defense against ballistic missile attack. Moscow sees the U.S. plan as a threat to its security.

The Chechnya issue dominated today’s opening session of the OSCE summit, which was supposed to have culminated with the signing by all member countries of a Charter on European Security meant to continue the OSCE’s adaptation to a post-Cold War role in preventing conflicts, promoting democracy and protecting human rights.

Opening the summit, Norway’s foreign minister, Knut Vollebaek, who is the OSCE chairman, said Moscow’s tactics in Chechnya are ``reason for serious concern.″ Under the agreement today, Vollebaek would be the official to tour Chechnya.

French President Jacques Chirac declared, ``The current offensive is a tragic error.″

Yeltsin said the use of military force in Chechnya was necessary to defeat terrorists who had slaughtered innocent civilians. ``There will be no negotiations with bandits and murderers,″ he said.

In delivering his remarks on Chechnya, Clinton looked at Yeltsin occasionally and waved his finger in the Russian leader’s direction. Yeltsin looked back at Clinton and, at one point, wiped his forehead with a handkerchief. He left after Clinton spoke.

Clinton spoke warmly of Yeltsin’s courage in climbing atop a tank and facing down the leaders of a coup attempt against the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, in August 1991 that hastened the end of 74 years of communist rule.

``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 say, well that is an internal Russian affair that we cannot be a part of,″ Clinton said.

Clinton said world leaders worry Moscow’s efforts to fend off terrorists could backfire and prompt ``ordinary Chechens who are not part of the terror or the resistance″ to reject Russian rule.

The president warned, ``The strength Russia rightly is striving to build could be eroded by an endless cycle of violence.″

But a stern Yeltsin said Russian ``cannot accept″ other countries trying to influence its policy.

``Appeals for humanitarian interference in the affairs of another state″ is merely a ``pretext for protecting human rights and freedoms. We all know already what disproportionate consequences such interference can cause,″ he added, mentioning the U.S.-led NATO bombing over Kosovo.

Clinton said in response, ``I have to respectfully disagree with my friend, President Yeltsin.″

Chechnya is a territory that has been beyond Russia’s control since the army withdrew at the end of a 1994-96 war.

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