Boris Yeltsin's drinking 'almost created an international incident', according to Bill Clinton.

Russian leader Boris Yeltsin was once found near the White House late at night dressed in his underwear, seemingly drunk and looking for pizza, according to a new book detailing Bill Clinton's presidency.

The claim comes in a 700-page expose, parsed from hours of secret recordings made by the former US president and Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Taylor Branch, excerpts of which were published in USA Today.

Clinton "relayed how Boris Yeltsin's late-night drinking during a visit to Washington in 1995 nearly created an international incident" Taylor told the paper.

Yeltsin had been staying at Blair House, metres from the White House, when he was discovered roaming by secret service agents. When confronted trying to hail a taxi, the former president slurred that he was looking for pizza.

Yeltsin, who died in 2007, is remembered for embarrassing drunken incidents, once seizing the baton from a bandmaster in Germany to conduct and playing the spoons on the president of Kyrgyzstan's bald head.

The book, by a long-time Clinton friend, also details the then president's views of candidates vying to succeed him. In Clinton's view George W Bush "was unqualified to be president ... but he had shrewd campaign instincts".

John McCain, who would eventually lose to Bush and again to Barack Obama in 2008, "might make a good president, but he had no idea how to run."

The book, released next week, is based on 79 taped interviews, which where kept largely secret from Clinton's staff, despite being conducted in the Treaty Room and other locations around the White House.

The tapes were apparently hidden in Clinton's sock drawer.