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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

'Go East,' Premier Tells Davos Leaders

DAVOS, Switzerland -- Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin told world business leaders that his country had completed its first stage of economic reforms and was ready for their investments.

"Young man, go East,'' Chernomyrdin told an annual gathering of government and corporate chiefs. "The doubts are left behind. Russia is clearly on the path of economic reform.''

President Boris Yeltsin "has a clear program of action and is going to implement it unswervingly,'' he said.

Chernomyrdin, fresh from a new agreement that signals Russian economic health is improving, was the keynote speaker of the formal opening session Thursday evening.

His visit to Switzerland underscored the improvement in Yeltsin's health.

He will be followed on Sunday by Yeltsin's chief of staff, Anatoly Chubais, said organizers of the World Economic Forum, an annual gathering of some of the biggest names in world events.

The six-day, privately organized event in this Alpine resort will feature a wide range of discussions.

Forum organizers said this year's session will be attended by 2,000 political and business leaders, scientists and other experts and journalists.

Yeltsin, suffering from pneumonia, was unable to come to Davos.

Alexander Lebed had said he wanted to attend as well, but organizers faxed him that they didn't have a suitable political forum for him this year, a spokeswoman said.

Lebed was told he would be welcomed in the future when such a panel is arranged, she said.

In the end the popular retired general and former security chief reportedly decided against making the trip, but didn't disclose his reasons.

Earlier Thursday in the Swiss capital of Bern, Chernomyrdin signed a new debt-rescheduling agreement with Switzerland concerning old obligations of the Soviet Union.

Under the accord, Russia agreed to repay over 25 years the remaining 385 million Swiss francs ($275 million) owed for exports to the former Soviet Union.

The agreement was seen as one more indication Russia is getting its economic house in order.

Swiss President Arnold Koller said Chernomyrdin assured him that Russia will continue to develop a market economy and democracy and that they agreed trade between the two countries could be expanded.

Last year Switzerland exported $239 million worth of goods to Russia and imported $277 million worth from there.

Chernomyrdin said in the Swiss financial capital Zurich on Wednesday that his government aims to slash inflation to 12 percent this year after running a 21 percent rate in 1996.

Chernomyrdin told a business group that Russia also aims for 2 percent economic growth this year. "This isn't much,'' he said, "but it's important for us, and it's realistic.''

The featured event Sunday will be speeches by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

It was unclear Thursday whether all three Middle East leaders would sit at the podium simultaneously.

If so, it would be a first since Mubarak refused to attend the mini-Mideast summit in Washington, D.C. last October.

Tensions have run high between Netanyahu and Mubarak in recent months. The Egyptian leader was angered over "obstinate'' positions taken by the Netanyahu government toward negotiations with the Palestinians and Israel accused Egypt of pushing the Palestinians into refusing deals with Netanyahu's government.

The recent Israeli-Palestinian accord over Hebron, however, may have proved the key to bringing the three leaders together.