WASHINGTON -- In their third summit together, President Clinton and Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin showcased their close personal rapport yesterday but ran smack up against the reality that their interests sometimes still diverge sharply in the post-Cold War world.
On some of the most difficult issues facing the two countries -- including Russia's desire to flex its military muscle in the former Soviet republics, the war in Bosnia and Russia's sale of arms to Iran -- warm toasts, handshakes and hugs could not overcome profound policy differences.
"It is fair to say that the United States is a strong partner and not an easy one to deal with -- just like Russia," Mr. Yeltsin said. "But I think, and I believe my colleague, Bill Clinton, will agree with me, that this makes it all the more exciting and meaningful for the two countries to join hands."
Last night, Mr. Yeltsin and Mr. Clinton toasted each other warmly before sitting down to a black-tie dinner attended by 130 notables at the second state dinner of the Clinton administration.
But the most evocative event of the day was an afternoon ceremony in the Rose Garden for 20 Russian soldiers and 20 U.S. veterans who fought in World War II.
"In April 1945, as the greatest war of this century drew to a close, they embraced on the banks of the Elbe River," Mr. Clinton said. "Their meeting held the promise not only of the war's end, but also of an enduring peace that, sadly, was deferred for decades. . . . And we pledge that the opportunity we lost five decades ago to build a better world will not be lost again."
Earlier, the two presidents jettisoned some of the planned formalities of the summit, extending their personal meeting through most of the morning and then adjourning to a patio off the Oval Office to enjoy the fresh autumn air.
A "very friendly and at times very direct" discussion of Bosnia dTC and other issues followed, said one senior U.S. official.
A possible rift was postponed, at least until spring, when Bosnia's Muslim government announced that it would agree to putting off for six months the implementation of any United Nations action lifting the arms embargo against Sarajevo.
The United States insists that the arms embargo favors the Bosnian Serbs. The Russians, who share religious and historic ,, ties with the Serbs, are convinced that the Americans are misguided and fear that lifting the embargo would simply widen the war to the rest of the Balkans.
Asked by a reporter how he would react to such a move, Mr. Yeltsin said: "My response would be negative, of course, but we will discuss this issue with the president."
The United States also wants Russia to curb its sale of arms to Iran. Pressed on this issue by Mr. Clinton, the Russian president agreed only that the two sides should talk more, U.S. officials said.
"We had a very frank conversation," Mr. Yeltsin told reporters through a translator. "As always, there were some pluses and some minuses."
A third area of contention is the Russian insistence that it has a national interest in intervening in the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union.
It's a doctrine referred to in diplomatic circles by the tongue-in-cheek phrase "Monroesky Doctrine," a reference to President James Monroe's insistence in 1823 that the United States had an interest in keeping foreign powers out of the
Haiti is the obvious case in point currently, but U.S. officials said the situation in the former Soviet republics is not the same. "We had the world authority behind us," an official said, referring to U.N. approval of the use of force to oust Haiti's military rulers.
That argument strikes the Russian side as lame, and in a U.N. speech Monday Mr. Yeltsin used language strikingly similar to Mr. Clinton's rationale for intervening in Haiti. Conflicts in the former Soviet republics, he said, threaten "the security of our state."
But yesterday was not primarily a day of differences between the two powers or the two leaders, and the event that best captured the spirit was the Rose Garden ceremony with the aged veterans of the war that cost so many nations -- especially Russia -- dearly.
They filed in proudly, accompanied by the haunting strains of Russian folk music played on violins, these veterans in their 70s and 80s, walking slowly but steadily. Many of the Russians were men who had subsequently settled in the United States -- often at great personal cost.
Mr. Yeltsin noted that those veterans had been stripped of their medals. "I really feel ashamed and pained to recall this disgrace," he said, promising that a commission was being formed to return them.
Mr. Yeltsin also pinned a medal on one of the Americans, Charles Daniel Shaffer, who operated a forward gun on the SS Crockett, which was torpedoed by a German submarine and sunk Sept. 29, 1944, on its return trip after delivering cargo to Russia.
Mr. Clinton singled out Joseph Beyrle of suburban Detroit, who in 1944 escaped from a German prisoner-of-war camp and fought for the rest of the war with a Russian tank unit. His son, John, is now the director of Russian affairs on Mr. Clinton's National Security Council.
Mr. Yeltsin also produced two copies of a rare photograph that showed American and Russian soldiers walking arm in arm near the Elbe River.
After both presidents autographed the photos, Mr. Clinton asked Gen. John Shalikashvili, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to designate an American to receive one of them. The general pointed to retired Navy Adm. Kemp Tolley of Monkton, who spent part of the war in Moscow helping procure materials for the Russian war effort.
Asked afterward whether he was friends with the U.S. Army officer known as "Shali," Mr. Tolley quipped: "No. I'm Navy. Besides, I'm 85 -- he was in short pants when I was in Russia."
A reporter scanned the photograph, which Mr. Tolley held proudly. Was he in it?
"By the time this picture was taken, I was out fighting the Japanese," he replied.
Another of the veterans was Anna E. Connelly Wilson of Parma Heights, Ohio. She was 22 when she was sent as a member of the Army Nurse Corps to the deserts of Persia, where, she said, she treated "thousands" of wounded soldiers, including some Russians.
"They had good vodka," she said. "They were good soldiers and good company. Good drinking buddies."