Yeltsin Sings for Washington Supper

WASHINGTON -- It was Boris and Bill, Naina and Hillary at the White House, just the way you would expect for a couple of down-home boys who wound up leading the world's superpowers.

At the Clintons' state dinner Tuesday night for President Boris Yeltsin, the mood was upbeat, the toasts warm, and the guests relaxed and just a little awed at the new relationship.

"Welcome, Boris and Naina," U.S. President Bill Clinton had said as he kicked off the evening's toasts before a star-studded gathering of big politicos, businessmen, media honchos and oil-company executives. He praised Yeltsin as "the man who has led one of the most peaceful and hopeful" periods of modern history -- "the second Russian Revolution."

Yeltsin responded: "I really feel good about being here. I feel at home." And he raised his glass to "Bill and Hillary" and "to the strength of the Russian-U.S. relationship."

Just how at home Yeltsin felt was clear after dinner, when the Yale Russian Chorus serenaded guests as they headed toward the East Room. Yeltsin and Clinton were so taken by the power of the singing that they came to a stop, Yeltsin standing almost at attention as he stared at the singers.

After they finished that number, the chorus responded to a special request from Yeltsin for the Russian folk song "Kalinka."

The Russian leader started to sing, clap and wave his arms, almost as if directing the chorus in similar fashion to his performance in Berlin last month.

The crowd ate it up, along with the ginger-marinated salmon, cucumber salad and kasha, rack of lamb and Iron Horse Demi Sec 1989 wine, rising to give the leaders a standing ovation.

Clinton evoked powerful emotions when he recalled reading in Yeltsin's autobiography about how the Russian's father had struggled to invent a bricklaying machine to better the lot of the people.

Then turning to his counterpart, he said, "Mr. President, you have realized your father's dream, and on a scale he could never have imagined. Brick by brick ... you have laid the foundation for a democratic Russia."

You could feel the warmth go up a couple of degrees right there, even though Yeltsin confessed that Clinton's lavish praise as a defender of democracy left him "a little uncomfortable and embarrassed."

Yeltsin said that in their talks, "Bill and I have had to make a lot of effort ... a lot of patience. ... We have been guided by our people ... and the whole of mankind to achieve security for coming generations."

Wearing a snappy tuxedo, in sharp contrast to his business suit two years ago, Yeltsin on Tuesday night seemed self-assured and in control.

Among the 130 guests attending only the second state dinner of the Clinton administration were the Hollywood producer Steven Spielberg, the pianist Van Cliburn, the Disney president Jeffrey Katzenberg, the author and scholar Daniel Yergin, author of "Russia 2010," and U.S. television anchorman Tom Brokaw.

The business crowd included grain tycoon Dwayne Andreas, a White House regular when it comes to doing business with the Russians -- no matter what administration.

Another business executive, Alfred DeCrane Jr., head of Texaco, said that getting "rules and regulations clarified in Russia" is a bit of a trick, but he is trying.

First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton was sparkling in a red chiffon gown with rhinestones around the neck, and the Russian President's wife, Naina Yeltsin wore a green gown that also sparkled. Her hair was done up high in a bun.