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MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue one: Bear on the brink.


PRESIDENT BORIS YELTSIN (Russia): (From videotape, through subtitle.) I dismissed Yevgeni Primakov from his post.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Just when you thought that Russia couldn't take any more punishment, that it was scraping the bottom of the void, another political bombshell has rocked Moscow. Russian President Boris Yeltsin fired his prime minister, Yevgeni Primakov, this week, citing Primakov's inability to deal with a failing economy. And get this: Yeltsin's announcement came on the eve of the Duma's vote to impeach Yeltsin -- shades of W.J. Clinton.


Who will take Primakov's place? Yeltsin nominated Sergei Stepashin -- hard-core nationalist; minister of the interior; minister of justice; director of Federal Security Service, the new KGB; Russian National Security Council member; "Butcher of Chechnya," a nickname Stepashin earned by his brutal command of the 1994 war against Chechnyan separatists.


In his new job, Stepashin has his work cut out for him. The Russian government is unable to perform even the most basic tasks: provide security, administer justice, collect taxes, pay its employees, care for its people.


Russia's collapse has sparked a resurgence of rabid nationalism, and now Communist and nationalist forces have added ammunition in the U.S.-NATO war against Yugoslavia. They see their old warnings and old accusations against U.S.-NATO coming true. The U.S. is hegemonic, imperialist, arrogant, power-hungry, and expansionist, a boor and a bully that will, with NATO, challenge Russia, probably in the Chechnyan theater or elsewhere.


Question: Viktor Chernomyrdin returned from Beijing to Moscow this week. Chernomyrdin announced that Beijing wants U.S.-NATO bombing to stop first, then negotiations. Beijing says it won't even start talks in the Security Council until NATO stops its air campaign. Russia also wants the NATO bombings to stop first. This Sino-Russian axis is unanimously supported by Russian nationalists who are fed up with U.S.-NATO calling the shots. Stepashin, the new prime minister-designate of Russia, is a rabid nationalist. Does this combination of factors mean real trouble for the United States? I ask you, Michael.


MR. BARONE: Well, the answer is yes, it does cause us trouble, John. The reason it causes us trouble is not that we've been too hard, but that we've been too soft. We have not done, as John McCain suggested, go in with ground troops to protect the people in Kosovo, which we need to do. The facts on the ground are working against us, so we've had to go beg the Russians and the Chinese to help us out with some kind of negotiated settlement that Bill Clinton can sell, and in the process the terms are getting rougher and rougher.




MS. CLIFT: Well, it's a smart, canny move on the part of both Russia and China to forge this alliance. Russia can now take China's anger and its power and bring it to the table and they can have some influence in the Security Council.


But NATO is not bending. Milosevic is beginning to show signs of cracking. He's admitted that they're -- his side is taking casualties and a member of his cabinet, a tycoon, has spoken out publicly, saying that it is time to give NATO its victory and basically saying that all Milosevic needs now is a face-saving exit. He wants to sit down at a table with Western leaders.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Jay, what do you think of these combination of factors: Stepashin being a strong nationalist, this condemnation of NATO playing into the nationalist mentality?


MR. CARNEY: Well, John, Boris Yeltsin, as he's done many times in the past, is working on an internal power struggle. He saw Yevgeny Primakov as being too popular, with too much power, and a threat to his own stability as president of Russia for the next 16 months. He wanted him out.


Bringing Stepashin in is a temporary measure. I don't think Stepashin could ever be approved by this Duma. My guess is that in the next few weeks and months as the impeachment hearings play out in Russia and as the political crisis plays out, that there'll be a substitute, an alternative prime minister brought forward and it won't be Stepashin, who's really an unattractive character. But --


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Robert, should the United States be worried about this collection of factors? China, Russia, nationalism, Stepashin?


MR. THOMSON: Well, the U.S. should certainly be worried about Russia. Boris Yeltsin is the political equivalent of a serial monogamist, but only more faithless. He's done four prime ministers in 14 months. The U.S. should worry about instability in Russia. That's more of a problem than the Russians and Chinese getting together. But there is an interesting fact for the paranoid to worry about; that is that Stepashin was born in China.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Mmm-hmm. Mmm-hmm. (Laughter.)


MR. THOMSON: At a Russian military base.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He's already spoken out about the Russian determination to have a cessation of bombing as a matter of priority himself. Do you think that he will pump up Yeltsin to be even more aggressive in his --


MR. CARNEY: I don't, because I think the Russians want -- in the end, most of this rhetoric is for domestic consumption in both countries, in Beijing and in Moscow, and they want a deal. Russia wants to be the peacemaker.


MR. BARONE: But, John, it rules out using the mechanism of the U.N. if China is going to exercise its veto, and I can't see how they can avoid doing it after the ruckus they've made --


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We'll get into that in a moment.


Exit question: If U.S./NATO refuses to stop the bombing, Yeltsin and Chernomyrdin have threatened to break off Russian involvement in any Kosovo negotiations. Is this a bluff?




MR. BARONE: I think it's finally a bluff, but I think it's going to be a roadblock for awhile.




MS. CLIFT: Yeltsin is worried about his own legacy. He doesn't want to be remembered as the person who destroyed the economic system of Russia and also destroyed their power on the world stage. He's going to stick with the negotiations in hopes of being a major player.


MR. CARNEY: Both governments need the United States more than they need each other. This is a temporary alliance against the United States. I think it will dissolve.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Essentially a bluff?


MR. CARNEY: Essentially a bluff.


MR. THOMSON: Diplomatic bluff. Chernomyrdin is the key, and he's talking.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The answer is a serious bluff.


When we come back, U.S./NATO bombed the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade and the Chinese are furious. Like Beijing, Moscow is furious at NATO/U.S. bombing and wants it to stop. When should we begin to worry that two of the world's most powerful nuclear states are allied against the United States?




MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue two: China seeing red.


QIN HUASUN (China's Ambassador to the United Nations): (From videotape.) (Through interpreter) The Chinese government and the people express utmost indignation and severe condemnation against this barbaric activity.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: NATO bombed U.S.-Chinese relations back into the Stone Age last weekend. Three laser-guided bombs from a single U.S. billion-dollar B-2 bomber plowed into three sides of the new Chinese Embassy in downtown Belgrade. Three Chinese citizens, including a young newly wed journalist couple, were killed outright and more than 20 were wounded, six critically. The Chinese were and are outraged.


LI ZHAOXING (China's ambassador to the United States): (From videotape.) This incident is no ordinary incident, it is an horrifying atrocity, something rarely seen in the entire history of the world's diplomacy.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Tens of thousands of angry Chinese surrounded the U.S. embassy in Beijing, keeping the ambassador and embassy staff trapped for five days.


AMB. JAMES R. SASSER (U.S. ambassador to the People's Republic of China): (From audio tape.) My personal residence, the windows have been broken out of it, and I have had to evacuate my wife and son.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: At 12 U.S. consulates throughout China, protestors threw rocks and home-made fire bombs. President Jiang Zemin and a weeping Premier Zhu Rongji consoled families of the slain victims at a ceremony in Beijing. President Clinton apologized for the attack.


PRESIDENT CLINTON: (From videotape.) But again, I want to say to the Chinese people and to the leaders of China, I apologize. I regret this.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Secretary of Defense Cohen gave his version of why the misbegotten bombing occurred.


SEC. WILLIAM S. COHEN (secretary, U.S. Department of Defense): (From videotape.) In simple terms, one of our planes attacked the wrong target because the bombing instructions were based on an outdated map.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The Chinese aren't buying the Cohen explanation. Question: Why aren't the Chinese buying Cohen's explanation for the bombing, Robert Thomson? And by the way, Robert, you lived in China for four years.


MR. THOMSON: Four years.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I hope you are not a spy for China and you are trying to steal the secrets of the McLaughlin Group to give to the Beijing Group. (Laughter.)


MR. THOMSON: There is a program being planned on Chinese Central Television now that mimics yours, but not quite the same way.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You are not going give them the dynamics, though?


MR. THOMSON: No, no. They are trying to reverse engineer McLaughlin. (Laughter.)


The problem is -- not to trivialize a tragedy -- but this is what you might call the Casablanca cause of diplomacy: Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, they had to bomb the Chinese embassy. And because it is such an unusual event, conspiracy theorists on both sides are coming up with all sorts of wacky ideas as to why it happened.


Why it happened is central to what it meant. What it meant is that -- it is the old question, "Friend or foe?" More people in both countries think "foe."


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Here are some of the reasons why the Chinese have rejected Cohen's explanation:


First of all, current maps show -- as you will see on the screen -- current maps show -- tourist maps -- the location of the new embassy. And to believe that a 7-year-old map was used by the CIA for a densely populated city bombing is absurd.


Secondly, sophisticated U.S. satellites -- which China, by the way, knows a lot about because of its energetic espionage -- have sharp definition of the new stone and glass embassy building that looks nothing like the allegedly intended Supply Ministry.


And third, the CIA must have had an agent on the ground. Can you believe that in a city of 1.2 million people, not one -- not one U.S. intelligence gumshoe would be present to verify targeting? And that defies belief, the Chinese say. Can you not understand, Robert, how the Chinese can say this is deliberate?


MR. THOMSON: And one reason the average Chinese are saying that is because the Chinese government hasn't explained the full story. But the suggestions here that the Chinese are being bused to protest, that's one thing, but I can assure you there are about 1.3 billion pissed-off Chinese.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: There are? So the talk about this being staged, while it may be true to some extent, nevertheless the 1.3 billion who are pissed off really feel it deep in their nationalistic gut; right?


MR. THOMSON: Staged anger out in front of the embassy; genuine anger in the Chinese --


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Where is it going to go?


MR. THOMSON: The problem is it's not a matter of where it goes now, but where it goes in the long term. The Chinese are putting in place defense policies that take into account the U.S. more as a foe than a friend, and the U.S. is doing the same. And you have the espionage stuff and this ludicrous campaign funding stuff.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You notice that they've cancelled their nuclear talks with us?


MR. CARNEY: Right. John, I --


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: As well as a mission by Cohen and a mission by Krulak, the Marine commandant?


MS. CLIFT: And the Boston Symphony.


MR. CARNEY: Yeah, I think Beijing is going to do everything it can to milk this and get whatever they can from the United States out of it. I'm not so pessimistic to believe that this is the beginning of the end of positive U.S.-Chinese relations. China needs the United States for its economic and technological development. They can no more disengage from us than we, at least those who advocate engagement, believe we can disengage from China. I think that this was largely staged and hyped, and while there is a lot of anxiety about U.S. hegemony around the world, that it's not going to last.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you take exception to what he just said, anything?


MR. THOMSON: I think he misunderstands, actually.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You do? Can we remove the veils from his eyes?


MR. THOMSON: Basically, there's a lot of mistrust between Chinese and Americans. If you look at the popularity of China in the U.S., it went down sharply in '89 and it's been going down by grades ever since then.


MS. CLIFT: Look, it's a terrific --


MR. BARONE: Well, the fact is --


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hold on, Eleanor.


MR. BARONE: The fact is, the strategic -- you know, the Clinton administration's had this idea that we were going to have a strategic partnership with China. I think that was fantasy. We did give them a lot of technology through decisions of the Clinton administration to allow them to do it, in some cases involving campaign contributors. The Chinese got the impression, perhaps misimpression, that they could buy this administration by funneling campaign money over here. This has not been a lovey-dovey relationship from the start, and it never will be. The question here, John, is whether or not --




MR. BARONE: -- it's not whether the Chinese are going to love us, but whether they're going to respect us. I understand that they feel that we did this on purpose. I don't think we did.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You don't think we did?




MS. CLIFT: It's a terrific tragedy that our intelligence is so poor nobody bothers to pick up a AAA map. But the motion that this was done deliberately is totally ridiculous, and the Chinese leadership knows that. And you'll notice they also tamped down those demonstrations. So the stage-managed protests are one thing, but letting the people come into the streets, that could get out of hand very easily.


MR. BARONE: (Inaudible) -- 10 years ago.


MS. CLIFT: And they know it. And their big problem is managing their own public.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: There may be something -- answer me this question. There may be something cultural at work here. The Chinese, like the Japanese, take responsibility for error -- not culpable error, but any error that occurs. A CEO will commit suicide if there is a debacle in his own company, for which he --


MR. THOMSON: That's Japan.


MS. CLIFT: That's Japan, not China.



MR. THOMSON: That's Japan, not China.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, what about China? Isn't that true in China, too?


MR. THOMSON: China is much more individualistic. I mean, obviously saving face is important. Obviously, the Chinese getting a clear apology and something more beyond, that's what they want. Bill Clinton, very good apologies; but so far it hasn't been enough.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You mean his apologies did not seem sincere and deep-seated?


MR. THOMSON: Well, they haven't seen --


MR. CARNEY: His initial apology, actually, wasn't one and that really rankled Beijing.


MR. THOMSON: Exactly.


(Cross talk.)


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, now what we -- we've got to go to --


MR. BARONE: We've got to get a winning strategy out of this, John, where we'll be respected if we have a winning hand in Kosovo but if we continue to be losing the facts on the ground, we are going to be held in contempt by China and we must understand that they are going to feel this was -- (inaudible due to cross talk) -- unfortunately.




MS. CLIFT: China's not basing its opinion of the U.S. on the outcome in Kosovo. They've got much greater interest in terms of trade in this country.


MR. BARONE: It's taking it -- taking it into account.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you -- incidentally, in 1997, in April of '97, Jiang Zemin went to Moscow and he and Yeltsin signed an agreement and the joint communiqu‚ said, in part, "No country should seek hegemony, practice power politics or monopolize international affairs." Clearly, they think that the United States is quite arrogant. All politicians around the world interpreted that to be referring to us. Now, ought we be concerned that we are arrogant and a bully and the one who's trying to impose our will on the world, and is it -- is this to be taken seriously? Is it bothersome? Because it apparently is rankling both Russia and China.


MR. THOMSON: Well, they definitely weren't talking about Australia.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You mean your homeland?


MR. THOMSON: My homeland. Basically, that was a ceremonial agreement. The Chinese and the Russians, sure they'll get closer, but there are definite limits to that --

MS. CLIFT: The last time I checked, the U.S. was one of 19 countries with NATO --




MS. CLIFT: -- and secondly, though, China and Russia -- this is a little geopolitical payback. We suddenly need them, and they're enjoying having the moral high ground.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor, this -- you've got to face it, Eleanor, this is Clinton's war and NATO is a fig leaf.


Exit. Has world opinion turned against U.S.-NATO? Yes or no, Michael Barone?


MR. BARONE: I'd say some of the world, but on balance, no, it has not.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You don't think the majority of the world opinion?


MR. BARONE: I think -- and I think you weigh these things differently.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think?


MS. CLIFT: Well, if you want to go to the U.N. and count all the third world countries, maybe you would find it, but in terms of the significant western powers, the U.S. still -- I mean, they're with the U.S.


MR. CARNEY: NATO -- Eleanor's right. NATO does remain unified, NATO countries matter, and so far world opinion is still -- the important world opinion is still on the U.S. side.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah, there's a difference between the leadership of the NATO countries and the population of the NATO countries. And we know, for example, what the Germans think; they have -- they now regard the bombing as depraved.


MR. CARNEY: Well, John, but leadership matters.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think? Has world opinion in the bulk turned against U.S.-NATO?


MR. THOMSON: They're still in favor, but there's serious wind erosion.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The answer is, it has turned against U.S.-NATO.


Issue three: U.S. versus U.N.


KOFI ANNAN (secretary-general of the United Nations): (From videotape.) So we will pool our efforts. We will intensify the search for a diplomatic solution, because --


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has gone on the offensive. His target? Bill Clinton and the NATO air war. Annan wants the U.N. to cut a deal that will end the carnage. Annan appointed Carl Bildt to work with Russian Viktor Chernomyrdin on negotiations with Slobodan Milosevic. President Clinton objects both to the U.N. intervention and especially to Bildt himself, despite Bildt's credentials: expert on European diplomacy, three years as Swedish prime minister, one and a half years as high representative overseeing the peace infrastructure in Bosnia.


So why does the U.S. object to Bildt? Because Bildt publicly blasted NATO's air-only military strategy just a week and a half after the bombing started. (Quoting Bildt.) "If NATO succeeds in bombing the Yugoslav army into just ravaging bands of revenge-seeking soldiers, the thirst for revenge will drive Serbs and Albanians alike to even more horrible acts."


Carl Bildt also predicted the refugee crisis that NATO leaders failed to anticipate. (Quoting Bildt.) "A million refugees during the month to come is a real possibility. The situation is horrible beyond description."


And Bildt's expertise predicted that NATO would stoke the flames of Serbian national fervor for a long time to come. (Quoting Bildt.) "A long-term confrontation with Serb nationalism throughout the region will have to be faced. That Rubicon was crossed when NATO started to bomb Belgrade."


U.S. officials are vowing to cut Bildt and the U.N. out of the peace process. (Quoting a U.S. official.) "There are only two players that matter, Milosevic and NATO. There's no point sending envoys in that don't have the confidence of the leader of NATO."


Question: The U.S. has alienated Russia, China, and now the U.N. Is the U.S. now becoming the isolated state? In fact, is the U.S. becoming the world's pariah, the international outlaw of the world?


MS. CLIFT: No, John. (Chuckles.) Kofi Annan is trying to play both sides of a very tough hand. I think his choice of Bildt, I think, is meant to be more sympathetic to the Milosevic side. The administration clearly doesn't trust him, but that is not where the real negotiations are going to come. They're going to come between Chernomyrdin and Milosevic. And I think the U.N. right now is a sideshow, but in the end, they've got to put their blessing on whatever deal emerges, and I think they will.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think?


MR. BARONE: John, the U.S. created the U.N.; the U.N. didn't create the U.S. You've got this a little bit in the wrong order.


And in fact, when you look back at what Franklin Roosevelt was trying to do when he created the United Nations -- look through Charles De Gaulle's memoirs on this -- the idea that he had -- De Gaulle didn't like it -- was that the U.N. would be a tool of U.S. diplomacy. That's how George Bush operated it in the Gulf War in 1991.


We got Kofi Annan the job. That was one of Madeleine Albright's achievements as U.N. -- and now he has gone off the reservation. I think this is -- the problem here is that Bill Clinton wants a negotiated solution. His spin doctors think that they can lay down any defeat as a victory. The fact is this is a president who in a campaign, had a war room and in a war, he has a campaign room. And he is not seeking victory. And he is -- the U.N. is going to veto this stuff, through China.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think my central point may be buried here -- (chuckles) -- in some of this verbiage, okay? (Laughter.) My central point here is now we have the United States -- and against the United States are Russia, China -- and the United States is in antagonistic relationship with the United Nations. Don't you think from your travels around the world, that we ought to be taking this seriously and start acting like a superpower, instead of a renegade?


MR. THOMSON: The U.S. definitely has to include the United Nations. It doesn't mind Carl Bildt's appointment as long as he doesn't do anything. And you have this problem now of envoy proliferation: You have an EU envoy; you have a U.N. envoy. But basically, the U.S. position in Iraq -- they are bombing Iraq -- no U.N. -- what next?


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But clearly in Kofi Annan's mind, his favorite person is Bildt because Bildt is the one who is the civil administrator of the infrastructure in Bosnia. He knows the scene extremely well, and he is a very capable man. But we don't like him because he denounced NATO bombing as being both ineffective and probably morally questionable.


MR. CARNEY: John, the real risk will be if Bildt -- or through the U.N. -- is able to come up with a plan that begins to chip away at NATO unity. That would cause the U.S. a problem. But right now there is not a problem.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay. Exit question, quickly: Is the U.N. gradually eclipsing NATO in the resolution of the Kosovo crisis, yes or no?


MR. BARONE: No -- no.




MR. BARONE: But nobody is solving it, is the problem.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is that no -- or is that no?


MR. BARONE: Yeah -- (laughter) -- it's not -- the U.N. is not eclipsing NATO.


MS. CLIFT: They are not eclipsing, but they will be part of any negotiated settlement.


MR. CARNEY: Not yet.




MR. CARNEY: Not yet.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It is en route to doing so?


MR. CARNEY: Well eventually, if there is a chipping away of unity of NATO, it will be a problem.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is the U.N. eclipsing NATO?


MR. THOMSON: En route, but it is a circuitous route.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: A circuitous route? (Laughter.)


En route, but a direct route.


Okay. Last week we asked, "When will U.S.-NATO bombing of Serbia end?" Get this. Four out of 10 say "June or July," three out of 10 say "before June 1st," two out of 10 say "as late as December." One out of 10 say "after 2000."


We'll be right back.




MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Predictions.


Michael Barone?


MR. BARONE: The National Security Council, in bad faith, will continue to stop for another four weeks the publication of the Chris Cox committee on transfer of technology to China.




MS. CLIFT: Congress will pass an increase in the minimum wage by summer.




MR. CARNEY: Texas Governor George W. Bush will, in the end, participate in the Ames, Iowa straw poll.




MR. THOMAS: Richard Holbrooke's confirmation as U.S. ambassador to the U.N. in trouble.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Ehud Barak will be the next prime minister of Israel.