Prague, 15 April 1997 (RFE/RL) - NATO Secretary General Javier Solana and Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov met today in Moscow for talks on future relations. There has been no immediate information on the content.
But the talks might have been tense, following unexpected Russian demands for binding security guarantees against any eastward movement in NATO's military infrastructure, that is, weapons depots and military bases as well as communications and transportation networks.
The Russian demands were made last week by Primakov, while he was on a Paris visit. Primakov suggested then that NATO would amend the already prepared draft of an accord on relations to include a formal commitment not to station nuclear weapons on the territory of prospective members, and to give an equally formal guarantee that new NATO military infrastructure will not be build or moved there.
The draft was prepared in a series of three meetings between Solana and Primakov. It is said to outline general principles of future relations between NATO and Russia, defines areas of cooperation and sets up a standing NATO-Russia council. The draft reportedly includes a section dealing with the military aspects of the planned NATO's expansion in the East. It is this section that Primakov wanted changed.
NATO had rejected such demands in the past on security, as well as political grounds. It has ruled them out this time as well. The French officials were said to regard Primakov's demands as unacceptable. U.S. and NATO officials were reported to have regarded them as Moscow's bargaining ploy.
This argument is plausible, considering the place and the timing chosen by Primakov in pressing the demands.
By doing it in Paris he seems to have intended to drive a wedge between France, which has recently been in conflict with the U.S. over the issue of NATO's southern military command, and other members of the Alliance. Primakov upped the ante by suggesting that the NATO-Russia accord be signed in Paris at the end of May.
By choosing to make the move outside of the scheduled meeting with Solana, Primakov appeared determined to put the negotiations on a more public plane. At the same time, he seemed willing to undercut Solana's authority as the main negotiator on the behalf of the Alliance. And in addition, Primakov was clearly attempting an issue that had seemed to have been already settled during the recent Helsinki summit between President Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin.
Primakov's ideas, it appears, was to persuade the West that the prospective Eastern members of the Alliance -- most probably the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland -- should have a lesser status than the rest, owing to their proximity to Russia, and that this should be decided by Russia and Western NATO members, over the heads of the Eastern newcomers. This, in effect, has been a standard Russian position for some months.
The Western allies have repeatedly ruled out that view, insisting that all new members will have the same rights and obligations as the current ones. And this has been made clear in the aftermath of Primakov's move in Paris.
Yesterday, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told the visiting Czech Foreign Minister Josef Zieleniec in Washington that "there is no such thing as second-class membership." She then went on to say that there will be "no arrangements over the heads of the new members," and "no concessions" made to detract from their defensive abilities, or affect their sovereignty.
Solana himself was reported to have said during a recent visit to Canada that "new members of NATO will be full members of the Alliance." It is unlikely that he would change his position during the Moscow talks.
But then the issue is also unlikely to go away. Tomorrow, Yeltsin travels to Germany for talks with Chancellor Helmut Kohl. Yeltsin is certain to raise the NATO issue.
The NATO-Russia accord on relations could be sign at the end of May. If the negotiations succeed.
Last week, Secretary Albright said at a meeting with American newspaper editors that NATO's eastward expansion will go ahead whether or not the alliance succeeds in negotiating an accord with Russia. NATO is scheduled to invite "one or more" countries of Central Europe to open entry negotiations at the Alliance's summit to be held July 8-9 in Madrid.