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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

On Eve of Visit, U.S. Plays Upbeat Tune

WASHINGTON -- Senior U.S. officials have offered an upbeat assessment of U.S.-Russian relations despite recent strains and predicted Moscow would sign on to NATO's Partnership for Peace within a couple of months.


Vice President Al Gore arrives in Moscow on Wednesday for three days of talks, the highest-ranking U.S. envoy there since President Boris Yeltsin complained about NATO's plans to expand to former Soviet satellites.


On Russia's use of troops in Chechnya, the United States continues to call it "an internal affair."


"The province in question is part of Russia," one U.S. official said. "We have talked to the Russians about ... negotiating an end to this conflict, and not ending it by force."


At the State Department, spokesman Mike McCurry said the United States had urged Russia to "exercise restraint." He said Washington never condones violence, but "Chechnya is after all an integral part of Russia, and events in Chechnya, because of that, are largely an internal affair."


A week ago in Budapest, Yeltsin startled the Americans by telling the 53-nation Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe that plans for expanding NATO to include former Soviet satellites meant that Europe was "in danger of plunging into a cold peace."


In addition, Moscow at the last moment refused to sign the Partnership for Peace plan for closer military cooperation with NATO at a Brussels meeting of foreign ministers earlier this month. One U.S. official said he was willing to wager that "in a couple of months we'll have something good to report on the NATO expansion issue," and that the two sides will be able to work through their differences over the Partnership for Peace.


The official said that Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev, at the Brussels meeting, had wanted assurances "about where this process is going, and I think we'll give him those assurances."


He also said, "I think we're going to work through that. I'm not trying to put an exact time frame on it. But what we're going to do now is engage in a series of discussions about the NATO issue, and particularly about how they operate in the PFP."


Despite the evidence of strains between the two former Cold War enemies, U.S. officials insisted the U.S.-Russian relationship was on a sound footing, and that reports to the contrary have been "overblown." They said President Bill Clinton and Yeltsin had exchanged letters since Budapest, but declined to characterize them.


"I have been a little bit surprised to read in the press lately articles that say, in effect, the relationship is plummeting downward," said one official. "That is not the view of anybody."


This official said that, while in Moscow, Gore will announce a number of agreements "that will take the relationship forward."


Gore and Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin head the Joint U.S.-Russian Commission on Economic and Technological Cooperation, which meets in Moscow this week to discuss how to implement the nuts and bolts of agreements Clinton and Yeltsin have already signed.


Gore has said he would like to meet Yeltsin, if possible, but a meeting is uncertain because the Russian president is recovering from surgery on his nose.