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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Challenge From Russia To Clinton

Bill Clinton faces a monumental foreign policy challenge as he takes office, and how he handles issues like Iraq and Bosnia in the coming weeks could well set the tone of U. S. -Russian relations for the next four years. and those relations, despite the end of the Cold War between the superpowers, are still likely to be the determining factor in the political fate of the earth.

Like Ronald Reagan 12 years ago, Clinton takes office at a moment in which the United States and the Gulf are involved in an intense foreign policy tangle. But unlike Reagan, who was given an Inauguration Day gift from Iran with the release of the American hostages in 1980, Clinton enters the presidency with United States engaged in a bitter war of wills with Iraq that shows little sign of quick resolution.

Last year Clinton could have counted on strong support in this struggle from Washington's new allies in the Kremlin. But now President Boris Yeltsin is having to contend with an increasingly vocal opposition that has sought to earn favor with the public by contending that Russia, under the present leadership, is becoming effectively an American puppet in foreign policy.

It is in this light that Russia's critical statements this week must be viewed. The Foreign Ministry, by calling the latest U. S. raids on Iraq "out of proportion" to Baghdad's transgressions, was sending a signal to Washington that it could not count on unequivocal Russian support.

Likewise, on the question of Bosnia, at a time when Clinton is advocating a tougher stand against the Serbs, Russia is edging in the opposite direction. With questions of nationalism playing an increasingly important role in the political drama unfolding here, it was only a matter of time before pan-Slavism became an issue in policy toward former Yugoslavia. It was reported last week that dozens of Russians have taken up arms to fight alongside their Serb "brothers", who have since been accused of perpetrating genocide on a scale unseen since the Nazi era. Conservatives in parliament here are lobbying for Russia to break with its Western allies and abandon sanctions against the Serbs. How long Yeltsin can resist this pressure is uncertain.

Given this swing away from the "Westernizer" approach that marked Russian foreign policy last year, maintaining a harmonious relationship with Moscow will prove a delicate task for Clinton. While remaining firm, he will have to find a way to avoid offending Russian sensibilities and igniting nationalist passions, which, in a worst-case scenario, could bring a return of authoritarian rule. and if that happened, the whole world would suffer.