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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Low-Key Lieutenants Seek Kosovo Solution




WASHINGTON -- Viktor Chernomyrdin, the stolid former Russian prime minister, and Al Gore, the stolid U.S. vice president, are engaged in an intensive search for a diplomatic exit to the bloodshed in the Balkans, an effort that brings some risk to both men, but potentially large benefits.


Earlier this week, Gore and Chernomyrdin conducted a movable meeting that migrated from Gore's small quarters in the West Wing of the White House to the Oval Office to the exercise room of Gore's official residence.


While the sessions were "constructive," the leaders said, there has been no breakthrough.


But the two men, lifelong party apparatchiks and loyal lieutenants to more charismatic leaders, do not traffic in breakthroughs. Their specialty is dialogue; their advanced degrees are in "process."


The Gore-Chernomyrdin discussions may in the end yield nothing. Nevertheless, both men stand to gain from these high-profile sessions. Should their talks bear fruit, each would be seen as a peacemaker, an effective negotiator and a credible leader.


But Gore is engaging in a calculated gamble was well. Failure in a high-profile diplomatic venture could undercut his argument that his foreign policy experience makes him uniquely qualified among all the current candidates for the White House.


Advisers to Gore said there was no conscious effort to position him as the seeker of peace in the Balkans, in contrast to President Bill Clinton, the maker of war.


One Gore adviser said that given the hawkish sentiments in the Democratic Party today, Gore would benefit more from an aggressive pro-war position. Gore could suffer if he is associated with a Russian-brokered peace deal that comes to be seen as too easy on Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, this adviser said.


The Gore-Chernomyrdin dialogue, first opened six years ago, has been an invaluable high-level channel for addressing issues that their bosses do not have time for and their subordinates cannot deliver on. They are able to conduct talks without the pomp of summitry or the indecision of staff-level work. And their personal connection, groomed over years in high office, creates a bond of trust unrivaled anywhere else in the U.S.-Russia relationship.


"There's just no doubt that we have the ability to talk with one another in total candor and in total confidence that neither is trying to pull the wool over the other's eyes," Gore said in an interview Tuesday. Gore and Chernomyrdin have been negotiating partners since early 1993, when Chernomyrdin was the newly appointed prime minister under President Boris Yeltsin and Gore took office as Clinton's vice president.


In 10 formal sessions of the Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission, the two leaders tackled some of the thorniest issues dividing the United States and Russia.


The formal sessions ended when Yeltsin dismissed Chernomyrdin in March of last year as the Russian economy was imploding, but Gore maintained informal contacts with his former negotiating partner.


The link was re-established this year when Yeltsin named the former premier Moscow's special envoy for the Balkans.


Administration officials who attended the Gore-Chernomyrdin meetings this week were reluctant to share details of their discussions.


"This is very much a work in progress and very much uncertain," one official who took part in the talks said. "We're not negotiating a peace in the Balkans with Russia. If we were, we'd be home by now. The problem is Milosevic. The Russians do not have decisive influence with him, nor do they claim a decisive influence. But they are trying to help. They are trying to end this conflict."