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08/13/1998 22:04:13 U.S. tells Russia bluntly to restore confidence

By Janet Guttsman

WASHINGTON, Aug 13 (Reuters) - The United States told

Russia bluntly on Thursday to restore confidence in its

beleaguered economy and said that Washington was working on

finding a way to help.

But White House spokesman Mike McCurry declined to be drawn

on whether additional cash might be made available to Russia,

which won a $23 billion international rescue deal last month,

or to comment on whether the ruble would have to be devalued.

He confirmed that officials from the Group of Seven

industrialized countries discussed Russia on Thursday and said

Treasury leaders were in touch with Moscow.

"It's critical that the Russian government act quickly to

restore confidence in their economy, and that is something that

we have communicated directly with Russian officials," McCurry

told a news briefing.

"The international community has a big stake in seeing that

Russia gets their economy moving in the right direction."

Asked if there was talk of unilateral action before

President Bill Clinton's Moscow summit next month, he said:

"Clearly ... there's some work going on on that." He gave no

details.

Russian officials have repeatedly said that they are

committed to a painful program of economic reforms drawn up in

cooperation with the International Monetary Fund.

They dismiss all talk of devaluing the ruble, which is

currently held in a broad corridor against the dollar.

But financial markets remain deeply skeptical, both about

Russia's reformist credentials and its ability to withstand

pressure to devalue.

Russian stocks fell 6.5 percent and the deepening crisis

was cited as a reason for lower U.S. share prices. The Dow

Jones Industrial Average fell 1.09 percent on Thursday.

The Russian crash came on the day that international

financier George Soros called for a ruble devaluation and the

creation of a currency board, which would peg the ruble to the

dollar and tie cash in circulation to central bank reserves.

"The meltdown in Russian financial markets has reached the

terminal phase," Soros wrote in a letter to the Financial Times

in London.

Soros, famous for speculating successfully against sterling

in 1992, said later in a statement he had no position in the

ruble. He wanted his letter to serve as a "wake-up call" to

industrialized nations about Russia's urgent need for help.

The United States, fearful about political instability in

Russia, was a key sponsor of last month's rescue, which was put

together under the auspices of the IMF and which included money

from the fund and other donors.

David Lipton, Treasury undersecretary for international

affairs, traveled to Moscow for urgent talks this week.

McCurry said Lipton had been "communicating the sense of

urgency we have about the need to restore both confidence and

stability in the Russian economy" in top-level talks there.

Asked about G7 involvement, McCurry said reports of a

telephone conversation by deputy finance ministers appeared to

be correct. "I would not be surprised if the G7 remains fully

engaged in monitoring both the developments in Russia and in

Asia generally," he said.

Russia, looking more at its political significance than at

its economic clout, has been lobbying to turn the G7 --

Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United

States -- into a Group of Eight.

Russian President Boris Yeltsin has attended the group's

annual summits, but Russia's finance minister and central bank

chief do not join all G7 talks on the world economy.

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