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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Change Of Subject at The Summit

Face it, superpower summits just are not what they used to be. The initial impact of the Vancouver meeting between Presidents Boris Yeltsin and Bill Clinton seems to be a big yawn. The main headline is that some rejiggering by American politicians seems to have turned about $700 million in U. S. assistance into $1. 6 billion -- but this was mainly a matter of bureaucratic legerdemain.


The leaders were even asked by reporters whether the package was not simply a matter of "old wine in new bottles". Despite promises of direct assistance, bypassing government red tape, many Russians are skeptical whether they will ever really see any benefit.


Both leaders gained something, although six months from today it may be hard to remember just what that was.


For now, however, Clinton has put all the American eggs in Yeltsin's basket. If Yeltsin does not survive, Clinton may rue that decision. Yeltsin probably will not gain much politically from the Clinton embrace but it certainly should do him no harm.


For Clinton, who started his term in rocky style only 10 weeks ago, there was the heady aroma of being the lead actor on the world stage. It is easy to be cynical, but just six months ago President George Bush was referring to Clinton as a "bozo" whom Americans should not entrust with weighty matters of world affairs.


Probably the most important aspect of the Vancouver summit was what it was not. Unlike past summits, there was no discussion of strategic weapons and neither country's defense minister attended. Nor were there any dramatic glitches or faux pas, such as Ronald Reagan's grand, but misplaced, gesture at the 1986 Reykjavik summit to eliminate all nuclear weapons, much to the Pentagon's consternation.


There was not even the fun of the Raisa-Nancy show where the two First Ladies traded barbed pleasantries. Naina Yeltsin and Hillary Clinton stayed at home, much to the regret of the gossip circuit.


The Vancouver meeting may mark a turning point in summits. The leaders changed the subject. Unlike every meeting since the first postwar summit in 1959 between Nikita Khrushchev and Dwight Eisenhower, the threat of nuclear annihilation is no longer the key topic.


Just as Russia is no longer the force that was the Soviet Union, the United States is no longer so dominant in the West and must work with its allies to marshal help for Moscow.


It is a world in which neither superpower is quite so powerful. If that makes for a yawn of a summit, maybe there is something to be said for that.