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Sunday, 4 June, 2000, 21:15 GMT 22:15 UK
Analysis: Cautious start for Clinton and Putin
Clinton and Putin at news conference
Mr Clinton was noticeably cool in the news conference
By Washington correspondent Paul Reynolds

The Bill and Vladimir show this was not. Presidents Clinton and Putin sat rather stiffly at a large white desk at their news conference in the Kremlin.

They hardly looked at each other and certainly didn't smile. Gone was the Bill and Boris Yeltsin backslapping as of old.

The new relationship between the United States and Russia is, as these men expressed, much more businesslike and realistic.

The old illusions have gone. Russia has been through a hard time and faces a hard future. Nobody quite knows where it is going to end up.


Clinton and Yeltsin
The backslapping days of Boris Yeltsin are over
This makes the US rather nervous about Russia, but it knows it has to deal with Moscow and that's why Mr Clinton came.

The main issue was the American proposal to develop an anti-missile defence system. This would be based in Alaska and would defend against a potential threat from North Korean intercontinental ballistic missiles, which the US believes will be ready in about five years' time.

Such a system would contravene the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, and Mr Clinton wants the Russians to agree to a change to it.

Mr Putin said at the news conference: "The cure may be worse than the disease."

And in a briefing for reporters afterwards, the US Deputy Secretary of State, Strobe Talbott acknowledged that Mr Putin "made absolutely clear his continued opposition to such changes".

Deadlock

This issue therefore remains deadlocked and casts a cloud over the whole relationship, because the Americans are on a course to deploy such a system if they can test it successfully, which they have not yet done.



Both men were well informed and eager to hear the other's opinion, but they clearly did not agree with each other's opinion

Mr Clinton, in turn, was absolutely clear that he would if necessary take a decision to deploy. The decision is due later this year

Russians think the American view of the North Koreans is exaggerated and that the system would undermine in due course Russia's own strategic nuclear forces and would lead to a new arms race.

On a personal level the atmosphere seemed cordial rather than warm.

The two men were polite to each other in public. Apparently in private they had talked intensely.

Both were well informed and eager to hear the other's opinion, but they clearly did not agree with each other's opinion.


Clinton and Putin in Great Hall
Relations between the two men seem cordial rather than warm
Mr Putin called Mr Clinton a comfortable and pleasant partner. But Mr Clinton was noticeably cool in the news conference and indeed lectured the Russian leader on what he needs to do. He said Russia should not just be great but should be good.

Mr Putin, he said, had the opportunity to lead Russia not just to prosperity but to pluralism and the rule of law. This was very much the American theme of this meeting.

Mr Putin sat quietly while this lecture was being given, but cannot have enjoyed it.

Overall, therefore, a start has been made in the relationship by the United States with the new Russian leader, but of course Mr Clinton is to move on. A new leader will be in the White House next January.

It has been a cautious start but many problems remain before this becomes a normal and natural relationship.

Agreements

There is a brighter side to all this. The Americans and Russians did reach two interesting agreements.

One is to dispose of 68 tonnes of plutonium, so the material will be no longer available for thousands of nuclear warheads.

But there is a price to be paid. The cost to the Russians will be some $2bn and they say other countries must contribute.

The hat is now being handed around the western countries to pay for this, as it is reckoned to be in their own interests.

The second agreement was to set up a joint warning centre for missile launches, to be based in Moscow, manned by Americans and Russians. It is the first such joint permanent military operation.

It should reduce tension and minimise the possibility of either side retaliating on the basis of false information.

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See also:

04 Jun 00 | Europe
The plutonium deal
04 Jun 00 | Europe
Missile row mars Kremlin talks
02 Jun 00 | Europe
Why Russia fears US 'Star Wars'
03 Jun 00 | Media reports
Russian press sceptical on Clinton visit
01 Jun 00 | Europe
Germany wary about US Star Wars
24 Mar 00 | Americas
Russia calls for 'Star Wars' ban
19 Jan 00 | Americas
US missile test fails
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