Brussels, 9 December 1998 (RFE/RL) - Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said today that Moscow's relations with NATO have significantly improved over the past year, despite policy disagreements which remain between both sides. Ivanov made the statement at a joint news conference with NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana and Greek Foreign Minister Theodor Pangalos at alliance headquarters in Brussels today.
The news conference followed a meeting of the NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council, which was established last year. Greece currently represents NATO on the council, on a rotating basis.
No new agreements were signed today, but Ivanov said that if one remembered what relations between Russia and NATO were like only a year ago, "you will see that we have come a long way on the road from mutual suspicion to cooperation."
Our correspondent in Brussels says both Ivanov and Solana cited efforts to bring peace to the Serbian province of Kosovo as a positive example of new NATO-Russian cooperation. Ivanov said the two sides did not directly discuss NATO's current plan to develop a new strategic concept.
U.S. Secretary Madeleine Albright yesterday urged NATO ministers to widen the alliance's mission in future to move beyond a narrow definition of mutual defense. She said that with new modern missile technology, for example, threats could come from far beyond the alliance's borders and she urged ministers to be prepared to take action.
But Ivanov today warned that Russia firmly believes that any decision to use force internationally can only be taken on the basis of a unanimous United Nations Security Council vote. Ivanov said Russia continues to oppose NATO's expansion and its declared "open-door" policy to new members from Eastern Europe. But he said the difference of opinion should not stop greater Russian-NATO cooperation in 1999. He urged both sides to move from words to greater cooperative action.
Solana, for his part, said that NATO and Russia can continue to work together even when they disagree on certain issues.
NATO and Ukraine also said today that they will cooperate more closely. For the first time in its history, NATO will station two military officers in Kyiv to act as a liason between the alliance and Ukraine.
The two sides signed a memorandum of understanding at NATO headquarters in Brussels today during a meeting of the Ukraine-NATO commission.
Solana and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk said the two liaison officers will complement NATO's existing information office in Kyiv. Solana and Tarasyuk also announced that Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma will travel to Washington for NATO's 50th anniversary summit next April, where he will hold summit-level talks with NATO officials.
Both sides said they adopted an agenda for cooperation in 1999 at today's meeting and Tarasyuk said he hoped relations would develop in an even more fruitful way.