Washington, 8 January 1997 (RFE/RL) - The United States has joined other Western governments in playing down the latest Russian diplomatic offensive against the planned expansion of the NATO military alliance.
State Department spokesman Glyn Davies said Tuesday that the United States is "aware" of Russian objections to the planned eastward expansion of NATO. But Davies also said the alliance is proceeding with its enlargement scheme.
The 16-member alliance links Western Europe, the United States and Canada in a mutual protection treaty. NATO has announced its intent to invite new members -- probably the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland -- to join the alliance this summer.
Russia has opposed NATO enlargement ever since the idea began to be taken seriously in Europe. On Monday, Russian President Boris Yeltsin told foreign minister Yevgeny Primakov to draw up a "plan of action" to counter the expansion.
Yeltsin met with his senior foreign policy and defense and national security ministers. Kremlin Press Secretary Sergei Yastrzhembsky said the meeting confirmed that the "entire Russian political leadership is opposed to NATO's eastward expansion."
He said the leaders discussed ways to cooperate with NATO, but also how to respond if the alliance goes ahead with its plans to take in members of the former Warsaw Pact. He said Yeltsin ordered the foreign ministry to develop a flexible response to various NATO enlargement scenarios.
Earlier Tuesday, German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel said he is certain Russia will abandon its opposition to expanding NATO if Moscow gets something in return.
"Russia knows that it cannot prevent NATO expansion and wants to obtain a good price for it," said Kinkel.
In Washington, Davies said once again that the United States and its NATO allies will keep Russia fully informed of alliance plans and will continue to work toward establishing a dialogue with Moscow on the issue.
Davies repeated the NATO position that expansion is not directed at Russia. He said "it is an attempt by the alliance to respond to the needs of some of the newly-democratic states of Central Europe to join the Western democracies."
"NATO enlargement is not meant at all to be directed against Russia," Davies said. "It is rather meant to provide those nations with an aspiration who can meet the tests of NATO membership the opportunity to join NATO."
"First and foremost," among those tests, said Davies, is a commitment to democratic principles.