EC, RUSSIA MOVE CLOSER ON CREDIT GUARANTEES

EC, RUSSIA MOVE CLOSER ON CREDIT GUARANTEES

The European Community may "de-block" credit guarantees for Russia, despite that country's unwillingness to waive a sovereign immunity clause that would give the EC recourse if Russia failed to meet its payment obligations.

Frans Andriessen, European Commission vice president, addressed reporters here Wednesday after a meeting with top Russian officials, including Russian President Boris Yeltsin, and said Russia's position in the stalemate was improving.While Russia is still not prepared to waive the clause, their stance "seems much better than in the past," Mr. Andriessen said.

"We would like to find a solution to de-block" the funds, he added, citing other problems in the way, such as a six-fold increase in Russian aluminum exports to the EC, which he called "an alarming situation."

Sovereign immunity clauses have been commonly found in most EC credit packages, even among community members, most recently Greece.

"It's not an attack on the sovereignty of Russia. We shouldn't politicize this issue," Mr. Andriessen said, adding that if he knew another way out of the situation, he would use it.

After talks with Russian officials Wednesday and discussions last month with other commonwealth members - Belarus, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan - Mr. Andriessen pledged stronger EC ties with all commonwealth states and asked for more assistance from the West.

In May, the EC will host a conference in Lisbon, Portugal, to bring together the 12 EC states, as well as donors from five continents, to address future aid programs.

The EC has thus far contributed more than $1 billion in technical assistance and training to commonwealth members.