With a message of support but offering no financial help, President Clinton urged Russians Tuesday to "reject the failed policies of the past" in coping with their current economic crisis.
"Given the facts before you, I have to tell you that I do not believe there are any painless solutions," Clinton told a new generation of Russian leaders at Moscow State University of International Relations. He repeatedly said that Russia must "play by the rules" of international commerce.Clinton met earlier with Russian President Boris Yeltsin in the first session of a two-day summit unlikely to deliver sweeping agreements from the politically wounded presidents.
Despite the poor outlook, Yeltsin declared before meeting with Clinton that "Russian-American relations are developing successfully." He greeted Clinton with a bear hug and handshake in the Kremlin's presidential study.
With Russia's economic turmoil throwing the summit into uncertainty, Clinton addressed the crisis with frankness but also sympathy, saying the country has had only seven years' experience with market reform. In the end, he said, Russia must find its own solutions.
"I do not believe it is by reverting to the failed policies of the past. I do not believe it is by stopping the reform process in midstream," he told students.
"Today's financial crisis does not require you to abandon your march to free markets," he said.
Urging Russians to "play by the rules," Clinton said they should "pay their fair share of taxes" and he admonished a defaulting government that "the people who lend money to this nation must be treated fairly" so they will extend loans again in the future.
"I believe you will create the conditions of growth if - but only if - you continue to move decisively along the path of democratic, market-oriented constructive revolution," he said.
Clinton and Yeltsin held a luncheon discussion with senior aides. Deputy Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers said it focused mainly on Russia's economic problems and prospects. He said Yeltsin indicated there would be no reversion to communism.
The first agreement to trickle out of the Clinton-Yeltsin meetings was a joint pledge to eliminate some stockpiles of plutonium taken from dismantled missile warheads.
Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., who traveled with Clinton, said the two presidents would sign on Wednesday an agreement to get rid of about 50 metric tons of plutonium on each side and break down the weapons material so it cannot be used for military purposes. "We both have way more than we need," Domenici said.
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said Clinton would also tell Yeltsin that while Russia has U.S. support, it cannot expect more international aid unless it sticks to reforms that will produce a free market economy.
"Nobody expects the West to keep throwing money into this country if they are not willing to undertake the fundamental reforms, so it's a combination of holding out some carrots - some money - and at the same time making clear that there need to be some fundamental changes," Albright said in an interview on ABC's "Good Morning America."
Clinton himself is burdened with problems back home - a battered stock market and the Monica Lewinsky affair - and hoping to get a boost from summiteering. He persisted in coming here to try to do business with Yeltsin.
The Russian leader vowed to get his choice for prime minister, Viktor Chernomyrdin, approved by the parliament despite its decisive rejection.
National security adviser Sandy Berger said Yeltsin and Chernomyrdin, were "not prepared to deviate fundamentally from the reform" that marked Yeltsin's troubled years in the presidency.
And yet, Berger acknowledged, Yeltsin and Chernomyrdin were trying to build consensus with a Russian parliament dominated by communists and nationalists.
In a cold rain, Clinton opened the day with a traditional wreath laying at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. He and his top aides walked in slow motion behind two goose-stepping guards carrying the ring of flowers.