A summit meeting Wednesday between President Bill Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin ended with largely cosmetic concessions from the Russians and palpable disappointment on the American side.
Yeltsin agreed to drop a proposal by Russia to sell uranium-enrichment equipment to Iran and to take part in discussions about the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization into the nations of the former Soviet empire.
But these concessions were the minimum hopes of U.S. officials entering the meeting.
Yeltsin spurned Clinton's pleas to halt the bloody repression in Chechnya and to abandon a nuclear technology sale to Iran.
And Yeltsin made little effort to disguise the fact that significant differences remained on several fundamental issues.
"Today we better understand the interests and concerns of each other, and yet we still don't have answers to a number of questions," he said at a news conference. "Our positions even remain unchanged."
Clinton, too, offered a downbeat assessment of the meeting in a break in the almost three hours of one-on-one discussions between the two leaders.
"No one will ever solve all the problems," Clinton said.
If the Americans could trumpet any progress, it was on the question of whether Russia would take part, even grudgingly, in the process of admitting former Warsaw Pact states to NATO. Yeltsin agreed to join the Partnership for Peace, the club of former Soviet bloc nations applying for eventual NATO membership. But he still expressed doubts about the pace of the alliance's expansion.
Clinton acknowledged that he and Yeltsin had not resolved Russia's deep opposition to the admission into NATO of Poland, Hungary and other Eastern European nations.
But he said the beginning of a dialogue between Russia and the Western allies was the "success" of the meeting, following Yeltsin's hostile rejection of the partnership arrangement six months ago in Budapest, Hungary.
"There must be a special relationship between NATO and Russia," Clinton said.
Nicholas Burns, a State Department spokesman, took pains to portray Yeltsin's movement on NATO as a significant accomplishment of this meeting. "Obviously, after Budapest, we had to make some adjustments to restore momentum in the relationship. I'm not saying this meeting was somehow a huge leap forward, but at least we've made the progress we've wanted to see for the last six months."
***** The Iran Deal
On Russia's proposed $1 billion sale of nuclear technology to Iran, Yeltsin announced that he would cancel the transfer of a gas centrifuge, a move that had been signaled before Wednesday's meeting by Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev.
U.S. officials had objected to the deal because they believed that the technology was destined for Iran's nuclear weapons program; the centrifuge can be used to enrich uranium to weapons-grade levels, experts say. …