WASHINGTON -- The United States is reacting with nervous discomfort to an informal request from Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin for Western political support if he were to assume emergency powers in his struggle with hard-liners in the parliament, administration officials confirmed yesterday.
Such a move would be considered "extreme," said one U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
It could not be determined whether President Clinton has responded directly to Mr. Yeltsin. While the Clinton administration favors democratic reform and human rights and wants to discourage Mr. Yeltsin from overturning Russia's precarious constitutional order, it has stopped short of expressing outright public disapproval because it has some sympathy for Mr. Yeltsin over his problems, sources said.
The Yeltsin request, first reported yesterday in the Financial Times, a London newspaper, was conveyed to Mr. Clinton and other Western leaders by German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who visited Moscow a week ago and conferred with the Russian president.
Mr. Kohl reported on his conversation in a letter to Mr. Clinton. According to the U.S. official, who confirmed that Mr. Clinton had received the letter, Mr. Yeltsin discussed with Mr. Kohl the possibility that Mr. Yeltsin might be forced to declare a state of emergency and suspend the parliament, which has opposed his reform programs and paralyzed the government. Mr. Yeltsin is said to have added that the Russian military would support his move against the parliament, which is now in emergency session.
While the official did not provide details about the Kohl letter, he said: "It is clear that Yeltsin wanted to know what we would think about this and whether he would have political support if he took such action."
U.S. officials have argued in internal discussions that while Mr. Yeltsin favors and has helped promote such democratic institutions as the Russian parliament, that body is now dominated by forces that seek to bring down Mr. Yeltsin and democratic reforms.
Without mentioning the Kohl letter, Mr. Clinton paid tribute yesterday to Mr. Yeltsin as a key voice of democracy in Russia and pledged to "do what we can" to help his reforms.