World War?

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MOSCOW: Has Boris Yeltsin been hitting the vodka too hard again? Emerging from under a low profile for a meeting with First Deputy premier Anatoly Chubais, the Russian leader made a statement on the Iraq crisis that was surprisingly Kruschev-esque. "By his actions," Yeltsin warned, "Clinton might run into a world war. He is acting too loudly ... We want to make it clear to Clinton that we do not agree with such a policy."

The Cold War comments came as William Cohen promised any military action against Iraq would be "significant," and Trent Lott rallied the troops with an equally blunt statement: "If we're going to do this, let's go all the way." President Clinton had spoken with Yeltsin by phone earlier Tuesday, and gave no hint of any discord. But the mere mention of "world war" from the Russian leader was enough to give the financial markets a little wobble.

So why the tough talk? Analysts see three explanations: Yeltsin, whose administration brokered the November deal that brought UNSCOM inspectors back to Iraq, could be frustrated by his envoys' lack of success this time. Then there's the Duma, which adopted a strongly-worded pro-Iraq resolution Wednesday. Finally, the Russian president has form for such bluff and bluster. Remember his promise to slash Russia's nuclear forces by a third, later dismissed as "tiredness"? Still, in the slide toward crisis, this is one threat Clinton can't afford to ignore.