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Moscow Rattles Nuclear Saber

Following stepped up criticism of Russia's war against Chechen separatists, President Boris Yeltsin on Thursday lashed out at President Clinton, reminding Washington that Moscow still has a nuclear arsenal.

At a meeting with Li Peng, China's legislative chairman and the communist government's most hard-line leader, Yeltsin told reporters he wanted to send a message to Mr. Clinton, who this week criticized Russia for causing civilian casualties in Chechnya.

"It seems Mr. Clinton has forgotten Russia is a great power that possesses a nuclear arsenal. We aren't afraid at all of Clinton's anti-Russian position," Yeltsin said. "I want to tell President Clinton that he alone cannot dictate how the world should live, work and play. It is us who will dictate."

President Clinton did not waste any time in responding to Yeltsin's reminder that Russia possesses an arsenal of nuclear weapons, reports CBS News Correspondent Barry Petersen reports.

"I haven't forgotten that. You know, I didn't think he'd forgotten America was a great power when he disagreed with what I did in Kosovo," the president said.

Over the past week, Mr. Clinton has repeatedly stressed that Russia will pay a heavy price for its offensive in Chechnya through a loss of international prestige and by alienating investors.

So far, an estimated 200,000 civilians have fled the fighting in Chechnya and a large number are thought to have been killed.

"I don't think what they're doing will help them to achieve their goal -- their legitimate goal is to defeat the Chechen rebels and to stop their terrorism within Russia, to stop their invasion of neighboring provinces like Dagestan, and I don't think displacing hundreds of thousands of civilians will achieve that goal," Mr. Clinton said.

Meanwhile, Yeltsin won key support from China on its Chechen campaign from China, which has separatist problems of its own.

"Jiang Zemin completely understands and fully supports Russia's actions in combating terrorism and extremism in Chechnya," Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told reporters after Yeltsin met with Chinese President Jiang Zemin.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue said at a separate briefing that China "understands and supports the efforts made by Russia in safeguarding national unity and territorial integrity."

The campaign against Chechnya has drawn heavy criticism from the United States and European nations for causing civilian casualties. The expression of Chinese support was a crucial goal of Yeltsin's trip.

Yeltsin and Jiang both agreed that there should not be "one country dominating the world," Zhang said. "World affairs should be determined by all countries in the world."

©1999 CBS Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report