UNDER the glow of the massive crystal chandeliers in the
Kremlin's baroque St. Vladimir Hall, Russian President Boris
Yeltsin and US President Bush yesterday signed a treaty marking the
transformation of two deadly foes into potential allies.
The START II pact drastically reduces the most destructive
nuclear weapons possessed by both nations and makes it virtually
impossible for either country to threaten to carry out a crippling
first blow. Calling it "the treaty of hope," Mr. Yeltsin described
the new arms pact as "a major step on the path to realizing
mankind's centuries-old historic dream of disarmament."
The Russian leader bathed his American counterpart in praise and
offered repeated expressions of hope that there would be no "lull
in bilateral relations" with the change in US leaders. He revealed
that he had sent a letter two days ago to President-elect Clinton
to this effect, proposing an early working summit in a "neutral"
location to ensure this.
President Bush, now in his last days in office, did not spare
kind words for Yeltsin, a man with whom relations have not always
been smooth. He saluted the straight-talking former Urals Communist
Party boss for holding the ramparts of democracy against the
attempted hard-line coup in August 1991.
Bush characterized the new treaty as the end point of a "half
century" of confrontation. "Today the cold war is over and for the
first time in history, an American president has set foot in a
democratic Russia," he said.
Bush's mind is clearly on history, and his place in it. "I take
great pride that on my watch, Germany united and the Soviet Union
as we used to know it will never be that way again," he said in an
unusually reflective talk with US soldiers in Somalia before
leaving for Moscow.
He proudly called START II "the most historic arms control
treaty ever made." His recollections naturally drifted across the
globe, from Panama to Desert Storm, which he credited with making
Middle East peace talks possible.
"In terms of how the administration will be looked at, I think
it will be predominately because of these successes in world
affairs," Bush said. So it is hardly surprising that he is ending
his term as a global peripatetic, jetting from the marines in
Somalia to meetings with the Saudi king, then on to the weekend
summit in Moscow and even a dinner with French President Francois
Mitterrand on his way home.
Yeltsin, who spoke at length after the signing, is eager for his
own reasons to put his stamp on history. "In its scale and
importance, the treaty goes further than all other treaties ever
signed in the field of disarmament," he said, a characterization
that pointedly elevates this achievement above those of his
predecessor, former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.
Yeltsin credited the ability to reach the second treaty in a
matter of months - compared to the nine years devoted to START I -
to the changes in Russia under his rule.
US officials, while pointing to the essential foundation
provided by START I, share this view. "Democratic Russia has a very
different perspective," a senior administration official said.
Both leaders gingerly sought to define the next stage of the
Russian-US relationship as not merely the end to antagonism but the
beginning of a new alliance. Yeltsin was more aggressive in his
definitions, referring to a "strategic partnership" and to "our
joint and determined movement to a new world order."
Bush, clearly cognizant of the hurt pride of many Russians after
the Soviet Union's collapse, was careful to deny any US attempt to
seek "special advantage" from the difficult process of change in