Soviet Foreign Minister to Meet with Bush, Baker On Baltics, Summit
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Soviet Foreign Minister Alexander Bessmertnykh will meet Saturday with Secretary of State James A. Baker III as the Bush administration nears a decision on whether to postpone next month’s summit meeting in Moscow, officials said Thursday.
The new foreign minister, formerly Moscow’s ambassador to Washington, also was expected to meet with President Bush on Monday during a session at the White House with Brent Scowcroft, the President’s national security adviser.
Two U.S. officials, demanding anonymity, said Bush would see Bessmertnykh, who was expected to remain in Washington until Tuesday or Wednesday. The State Department, meanwhile, formally announced only the Saturday session with Baker after The Associated Press reported plans for the visit.
The talks are certain to concentrate on the Soviet crackdowns in Lithuania and Latvia as well as on arms-control issues and the Persian Gulf war.
A new treaty to make sharp reductions in long-range nuclear missiles is supposed to be ready for signing at the Feb. 11-13 summit, but negotiators meeting at the State Department have not yet resolved a number of technical problems, including steps to verify compliance with the cutbacks. The treaty would reduce U.S. and Soviet long-range nuclear missiles, bombers and submarines by 30 percent overall.
Spokeswoman Margaret D. Tutwiler quoted the chief U.S. negotiator, Reginald Bartholomew, as saying simply that ″work remains.″
Other officials told the AP that the administration wants to discuss its concerns that the Soviets may be shifting tanks to east of the Ural Mountains rather than destroy the weapons under another arms control treaty signed in November.
Even so, the biggest issue on the agenda - and the one which could lead Bush to cancel the Moscow meeting with Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev - is the harsh way the Soviets are dealing with the independence-minded Baltic republics.
Bush has ″made it clear he has really, really told Gorbachev in no uncertain terms,″ of his displeasure with the military crackdown that has taken 19 lives, House Minority Leader Bob Michel, R-Ill., said after Bush met with GOP leaders at the White House.
Michel quoted the President as saying ″we’re involved in a very delicate relationship here.″
White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said he was unable to confirm that meetings with Bush and Baker were set. But, he said: ″I know we want to talk to Ambassador Bessmertnykh about the summit.″
Bessmertnykh, in any event, was expected to come to Washington by the end of the month - to complete his packing. He was serving as the Soviet ambassador to Washington when Gorbachev nominated him to succeed Eduard A. Shevardnadze in the top foreign policy post. Officials said a decision on Bush’s summit meeting with Gorbachev was imminent.
Fitzwater said earlier in the week that the summit was ″up in the air.″ On Thursday he said ″at the moment, he (Bush) plans to go.″
Asked if the summit could be held in a neutral country rather than Moscow, Fitzwater said, ″We want to talk to the ambassador about it, but I would lean away from that.″
″If we’re talking about a change, it would be a delay″ in the timing of the summit, he added.
Meanwhile, U.S. and Soviet negotiators were holding a fourth day of talks on the strategic arms reduction treaty. They have been unable to clear away disputes over such issues as inspecting missile assembly plants and how much information the two sides would exchange on missile tests.
Chief Soviet negotiator Alexei Obukhov said at the opening of the talks Monday that the treaty would be wrapped up in time for the summit. But U.S. officials were less optimistic.
They stressed, at the same time, that Soviet actions in the Baltics were the key to whether the summit would be shelved.
The House unanimously condemned the Soviet Union on Wednesday for the crackdown, and asked Bush to consider economic sanctions if it continues. The Senate passed the same resolution, 99-0, on Thursday.
So far, the Bush administration has let stand the $1 billion in grants extended last month to the Soviets to purchase food. The President also waived restrictions on Soviet exports to the United States, but a final decision is up to Congress.
The European Parliament, on the other hand, blocked a $1 billion European Community food-aid package Tuesday to protest Soviet actions in the Baltics.