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Ex-Ambassador Urges US Aid to Yeltsin

FORMER United States Ambassador to Russia Robert Strauss has some strong words about the policy debate over Washington's support for Russian President Boris Yeltsin.

It is not perilous to support the embattled Russian leader, it is prudent, he said at a Monitor breakfast yesterday. "If you have a friend who shares your values and who shares your principles ... you ought to stay with him for as long as you can." For the first time, he said, the US-Russian relationship is "based on common values" including freedom, a market economy, democracy, and human rights.

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Mr. Strauss acknowledged that while Mr. Yeltsin is "a transitional figure" in Russia's long-term transformation from communism to democracy, "he's just the best horse we can ride on to get there."

Strauss urged President Clinton to bring with him to his upcoming summit with Yeltsin "a package of things ... that are visible and close to the people" so Yeltsin can "go home from one meeting with the West with something besides conversation." The US should help Russia restructure its $80 billion foreign debt, provide it with "across-the-board technical assistance, and set up a "barter program" that sends wheat in exchange for Russian minerals, he said.

By the time Strauss left Moscow last November, he and Yeltsin had developed "a very strange, and warm and personal relationship," he said. Strauss calls himself Russia's "extra ambassador in the US."

A longtime Democratic powerbroker, he continues to discuss US-Russian relations with the Clinton administration. Strauss says Americans have "finally begun to understand the high personal stake they have in this. Your parents and my children are all beginning to realize...we got a dog in this fight....We have selfish interest here... in what happens there."

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