Early G7 summit on Russia ruled out: Clinton seeks financial help for Yeltsin as Congress of People's Deputies struggles with problems of a crumbling economy

Click to follow
The Independent Online
PRESIDENT Bill Clinton has called privately for an early meeting of finance and foreign ministers of the Group of Seven industrial countries and Russia to assess the prospects for fresh Western help for Moscow, but an early heads of government summit has been ruled out, G7 sources revealed yesterday.

The meeting will probably be held within the next three weeks, possibly in Washington. Mr Clinton is anxious to avoid going empty handed to his first summit with President Boris Yeltsin in Vancouver on 4 April, and wants to bolster Mr Yeltsin's political position and commitment to economic reforms.

Such a meeting would also spare the Japanese, the current G7 chairmen who will hold the main July summit in Tokyo, having to host a summit dominated by the question of aid to Russia - a difficult subject for Tokyo given its unresolved dispute with Moscow over the Kurile Islands. As one Western diplomat said: 'Tokyo is not the place to talk about Russia.' It would also spare them having to reschedule the July summit, for which they have made grand plans. 'The Japanese like to do these things more spectacularly than anyone else,' another diplomat said.

As a result of Mr Clinton's request, the G7 apparatus has shifted into high gear. Tomorrow, a meeting of the G7 summit sherpas - personal representatives of the G7 leaders - in Hong Kong will draw up provisional plans for a finance and foreign ministers' meeting. The sherpas were due to work on the July summit, where the jobless crisis is likely to top the agenda. They have now been handed the hapless task of formulating a new response to Russia's deepening economic and political crisis.

Japanese officials were nonplussed yesterday as to the meaning of public remarks made by Mr Clinton on Tuesday during a visit by President Francois Mitterrand. Tokyo, who as G7 chairman expected to be consulted, rapidly sought reassurances Mr Clinton was not calling for a full-blown summit.

Calls for an early summit began a month ago with Jacques Delors, the President of the European Commission - but he wanted it to tackle Western unemployment. Tokyo promptly wrote to Mr Delors saying a rescheduling was 'technically unrealistic'. Mr Mitterrand quickly picked up the baton. For a good month, he and Mr Delors were the only two leaders advocating an early meeting. But by the time he got to Mr Clinton, the justification for a summit had become the Russian crisis - a more compelling reason for Mr Clinton to act. As one diplomat said: 'There would be little political gain in sitting around talking about unemployment under the eyes of the world, unable to solve the problem.'

British officials, who had opposed an early full summit, yesterday backed the idea of a ministerial meeting as it became clear this was the most likely scenario. 'We are in total agreement with Mr Clinton about the need to act, and entirely content with a less elevated meeting,' said one.

The Seven are anxious not to raise expectations. Despite assertions by some Russians, much of the previous dollars 24bn ( pounds 16.8bn) assistance package to Russia has already been spent or committed. Some dollars 8.5bn was disbursed to Russia in the first six months of 1992. A further dollars 5.6bn is committed but not yet disbursed. Further loans from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund depend on progress with reforms, as does debt repayment relief that could be worth billions of dollars.