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Bush calls coup "misguided," calls for restoration of government

By
HELEN THOMAS

WASHINGTON, Aug. 19, 1991 (UPI) - President Bush condemned the ouster of Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev Monday night and supported a specific call by Russian leader Boris Yeltsin to restore the government and reaffirm Gorbachev's presidency.

In a strongly worded statement released several hours after his return to the nation's capital from his vacation home in Maine, Bush said the United States would ''not support'' Soviet economic aid programs if the ''misguided and illegitimate'' coup continues.

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''We are deeply disturbed by the events of the last hours in the Soviet Union and condemn the unconstitutional resort to force,'' Bush said after meeting with aides and receiving a letter from the new Soviet government.

The president said the ''unconstitutional removal'' of Gorbachev and the deployment of troops in Moscow and other cities ''raise the most serious questions about the future course of the Soviet Union.''

Bush, who will meet with Secretary of State James Baker and other senior officials on Tuesday, said the United States supports Yeltsin's call for ''restoration of the legally elected organs of power and the reaffirmation of the post of USSR President M.S. Gorbachev.''

The president said the United States will ''avoid in every possible way'' actions that would legitimize the coup effort. He issued guidelines that will govern U.S. policy toward the new rule. Those guidelines include a continuation of reform and democratization and the peaceful reconciliation between Moscow and the Soviet republics.

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''There's a lot at stake here,'' Bush told a news conference in Maine before leaving for Washington. He called the ouster of the reform-minded Soviet leader by the military and KGB as ''momentous, stunning ... disturbing.''

The president said he does not anticipate a return to the Cold War, but said at this point it is unclear who is in charge in the Soviet Union and whether the coup will even succeed.

''The situation is still quite murky,'' Bush said, adding that it could have rippling effects, possibly even reaching international efforts for peace in the Middle East.

The president expressed reservations about Gennady Yanayev, who was ostensibly made acting president of the Soviet Union. Yanayev had served as Gorbachev's vice president.

''I don't know whether to take heart or not from Yanayev's statement that this does not mean turning back reforms,'' Bush said. ''My gut instinct was that he has a certain commitment to reform. (But) the book on it so far has been something to the contrary.'' Bush doubted that Yanayev' was ''calling the shouts,'' noting that others involved ''have been real hard-liners.''

Russian Ambassador Viktor Komplektov met with deputy national security adviser Robert Gates and presented a letter from Yanayev to Bush, a spokesman said. The contents of the letter were not disclosed.

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Bush said he sympathized with Yeltsin, the popularly elected president of Russia, who called for a general strike in protest of Gorbachev's removal.

''I think what he is doing is simply expressing the will of the people there to have these reforms and have democracy,'' Bush said.

Asked if there was anything the United States could do at this point to affect events in the Soviet Union, Bush said: ''There is very little we can do except reiterate total cooperation with European allies, our commitment to these principles of reform and openness and democratic change.''

Although U.S. economic assistance is on hold, Bush said the United States will not back off the strategic nuclear arms treaty he signed with Gorbachev at last month's summit in Moscow. The treaty still must be ratified by Congress, which indicated it may be reluctant to do that now.

''The treaty is in the interest of the United States, clearly, and they said all treaties will be abided by and that is good,'' Bush said. ''We don't want to go back to the Cold War days and we're not going to do that.''

Bush, who has been in contact with world leaders, said he could not explain why Gorbachev was removed. ''Clearly some of the hard-liners have been concerned about the rapidity of reform ... concerned about the demise of the Communist Party ... concerned about the Soviet economy,'' he said.

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At the State Department, the Soviet ambassador met with Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger and promised to continue economic and political reforms as well as positive relations with the United States.

Without elaborating, the Soviet ambassador said he presented an ''official communication'' to explain the ''the position of our leadership.''

In the past year, Bush has taken steps to help boost the Soviet economy.

He recommended most-favored-nation trade status that would reduce tariffs and took action to provide the Kremlin with technical assistance to help it with transition from a state-run economy to a free market.

In a salute to Gorbachev, Bush called him a ''historic figure'' whose legacy was helping generate a yearning for democratic-reform in his country.

''Gorbachev's contributions have laid a foundation of progress that I am convinced that the people of the Soviet Union want to see continued,'' Bush said.

Bush said he had no advance warning about the overthrow and said, ''I think Gorbachev is as surprised as anyone.'' Bush noted that he had long sensed that Gorbachev, who was more popular abroad than at home, was in trouble.

On Capitol Hill, Democratic and Republican members of Congress displayed a rare show of unity in denouncing Gorbachev's ouster, making it clear that there will be no support for a Soviet Union that abandons reform.

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''The position of the United States must be unambigious and clear in response to this full-scale system-wide coup,'' said House Democratic leader Richard Gephardt. ''Just as we would reward the Soviets for reforming, we will rebuke them for stepping back.''

Threatened by any downturn in U.S.-Soviet relations is congressional action on U.S. trade concessions and farm credits as well as ratification of the nuclear arms treaty.

In the past year, Bush had taken several steps to pump up the sluggish Soviet economy. He had recommended most-favored-nation trade status for the Soviet Union, meaning reduced tariffs, and taken action to provide the Kremlin with technical assistance aimed at helping it move to a market economy.

The president initially told reporters Monday that he had no plans of interrupting his monthlong vacation because of events in the Kremlin, but said he would do so if he deemed it necessary.

''I'm not interested in show business, not interested in make work,'' he said.

Three hours later, though, deputy press secretary Roman Popadiuk informed reporters that Bush would indeed go back for an overnight stay.

Popadiuk said Bush would meet Tuesday with Baker and new U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union Robert Strauss. Other top aides conferred at the White House Monday.

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Bush and Gorbachev had grown to become friends in the past year, having successfully brokered an end to the Cold War.

Bush had repeatedly praised Gorbachev's reform movement, and thanked him for joining the U.S.-led coalition against Iraq last year.

In a salute to Gorbachev Monday, Bush called him a ''historic figure'' whose legacy was helping generate a yearning for democratic-reform in his country.

With national security adviser Brent Scowcroft at his side, Bush said although U.S. economic assistance would be placed on hold, the United States will not back off the arms treaty he signed with Gorbachev at last month's summit in Moscow.

''The treaty is in the interest of the United States, clearly, and they said all treaties will be abided by and that is good,'' Bush said. ''We don't want to go back to the Cold War days and we're not going to do that.''

Bush said he had no advance warning about the Soviet leader's overthrow and said, ''I think Gorbachev is as surprised as anyone.''

He noted, however, that he had long sensed that Gorbachev, who was more popular abroad than at home, was in trouble.

The president said the overthrow by Soviet ''hard-liners ... could have serious consequences for the Soviet society and Soviet relations with other countries, including the United States.'' The president said Gorbachev ''led the Soviet Union toward reform domestically and toward a constructive and cooperative role in the international arena.''

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He added, ''Gorbachev's contributions have laid a foundation of progress that I am convinced that the people of the Soviet Union want to see continued.''

The president said he was informed of the situation shortly before midnight and was briefed by Scowcroft early Monday morning.

The president said he had telephoned British Prime Minister John Major, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and French President Francois Mitterand.

He said he had not tried to contact Gorbachev, but said Major had and could not get through.

Bush said the United States expects the Soviet Union ''to live up to its international obligations. Clearly, our commitments on the part of the West will be judged and acted upon in accordance with that statement that the Soviet government must live up to its obligations.''

And, the president said, the ''West is not going to retreat from its principles of reform, openness and democracy. There's a lot at stake here.''

Bush cautioned against overreacting.

''It's not a time for flamboyance, show business, or posturing on the part of any country, certainly the United States. ... We're still gathering a great deal of information,'' Bush said.

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