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Newsline - May 15, 1997




DETAILS OF RUSSIAN-NATO AGREEMENT

The Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security between NATO and the Russian Federation, agreed yesterday by NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana and Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov, will apparently not be legally binding, Reuters reported. The act creates a Russian-NATO joint council that will meet twice a year to consider common problems. It also calls for strengthening the OSCE and further revision of the CFE treaty. In addition, it contains a pledge, but not a guarantee that NATO, will not deploy sizable conventional forces or nuclear weapons on the territory of new member states. The act also states that Russia does not have a veto over NATO's actions just as NATO does not have a veto over Russian ones. Russian and Western leaders have disagreed over their interpretations of the document (see "End Note" below).

CHECHEN GOVERNMENT APPROVES PEACE TREATY

The Chechen government yesterday approved the treaty signed on 12 May by Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov on the principles of relations between Moscow and Grozny, NTV reported. Russian Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin chaired a session of the Russian Federal Commission on Chechnya to discuss implementation of the economic agreements signed the same day as the treaty. Also yesterday, the State Duma adopted a resolution calling on Yeltsin to instruct Rybkin to explain the treaty to the Duma . It also asked its Security Committee to assess the treaty. The Duma wants to determine whether the treaty was concluded with a subject of the federation, whether the Chechen Republic is a constituent part of Russia, whether Russia was at war with Chechnya, and whether the status of Chechnya's internal borders with the rest of the Russian Federation remains unchanged, ITAR-TASS reported.

FEDERATION COUNCIL APPROVES LAW ON GOVERNMENT...

The Federation Council has voted by 140 to 14 with 16 abstentions to approve the federal constitutional law on the government, ITAR-TASS reported yesterday. The law, passed last month by the State Duma, would force the whole government to step down if the prime minister resigned or was sacked. It also would require government ministers to submit yearly income and property declarations. The Council rejected an earlier version of the measure in December. Federal constitutional laws must be passed by a two-thirds majority in the Duma and a three-quarters majority in the Council.

...REJECTS CHANGE IN DEPUTIES' STATUS

The upper house rejected an amendment to the law on the status of Duma and Council deputies, which was passed by the Duma last month, ITAR-TASS reported yesterday. The amendment would have guaranteed that if the Duma was disbanded, its deputies would receive a lump-sum payment equivalent to their total salaries for the duration of the Duma's scheduled term. The current Duma is scheduled to serve through 1999, but opposition leaders have frequently accused Yeltsin of planning to dissolve the lower house. Valerii Borodaev, chairman of the Federation Council's Rules Committee, said the Duma had violated procedural rules by passing the amendment before seeking the opinion of the government, as it is supposed to do before passing measures that affect budget expenditures.

BORDER AGREEMENTS RATIFIED

The Federation Council also ratified several border agreements yesterday, ITAR- TASS reported. The most important is the troop reduction treaty signed last month by the presidents of Russia, China, Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. Other accords ratified yesterday are a multinational protocol on protection of the Antarctic, an agreement with Armenia on Russia's use of military bases there, an agreement with Azerbaijan simplifying cooperation between the two countries' border guards, and an accord with Kazakstan and Kyrgyzstan on obtaining citizenship.

LAW ON ROAD FUNDS APPROVED OVER OBJECTIONS FROM MOSCOW, ST. PETERSBURG

In addition, the Federation Council approved a new version of a law outlining how road funds will be distributed by federal authorities, ITAR-TASS reported. Under the law, regions would contribute half of the road taxes collected on their territory to a federal fund, which would then allocate revenues among all the regions. The law gives Moscow and St. Petersburg more access to road funds than an earlier version, which would have required the two cities to divert all their road taxes to federal coffers. Nevertheless, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov and St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev argued against the law, saying regions should be allowed to keep all the road taxes collected on their territory for their own road construction.

DUMA REJECTS MORATORIUM ON PENSION INCREASES...

The Duma yesterday rejected a draft law that would have imposed a moratorium on all laws demanding increased state spending on pensions, ITAR-TASS reported. The government had proposed the measure, saying it lacked the funds to increase the Pension Fund's 1997 budget. The government's representative in parliament also argued that the law was needed if the government is to keep its promise to pay all pension arrears by 1 July. During the last year, the Duma has passed legislation to increase pensions on several occasions, most recently in March, only to be blocked by the Federation Council or a presidential veto.

...DEMANDS BETTER BORDER CONTROL

The lower house also passed a resolution calling on President Boris Yeltsin to take the necessary action for "timely and full financing" of customs services on the Kazak and Mongolian borders, ITAR-TASS reported. The resolution claims that those borders are "transparent" and allow easy passage of drugs, weapons, and illegal immigrants into Russia. The Duma plans to devote special attention to legislation defining the status of border areas.

TATAR PRESIDENT OPPOSES RUSSIAN-BELARUSIAN UNIFICATION

Mintimer Shaimiev says Tatarstan may abrogate its 1994 bilateral treaty on relations with the Russian Federation if the union between Russia and Belarus results in the formation of a new state, Russian media reported. Shaimiev warned that Belarus "will never agree to join the Russian Federation as just another federation subject" and "will demand more independence that Tatarstan and even more than Chechnya." Meanwhile, representatives of several tiny Armenian left-wing opposition parties convened in Yerevan on 12 May to assess the advantages to Armenia of joining the Russian- Belarusian union, Noyan Tapan reported.

ZYUGANOV SIGNS AGREEMENT WITH SYRIAN RULING PARTY

Communist Party (KPRF) leader Gennadii Zyuganov has signed a cooperation agreement between the KPRF and Syria's ruling Baathist socialist party, ITAR-TASS and dpa reported yesterday. The agreement foresees exchanges of official visits and information between the two parties. Zyuganov put his signature to the document after holding talks with Syrian President Hafez al-Assad and other high officials during a three-day visit to Damascus.

EMERGENCY POWER SUPPLIES REACH PRIMORE

Two power plants in Primorskii Krai have received enough coal from Amur Oblast to run an emergency regime, and power lines from the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) have transmitted some electricity, RFE/RL's correspondent in Vladivostok reports today. Vladivostok residents now have electricity for about five hours in the morning and three hours in the evening. However, the emergency fuel supplies are expected to last only for five days. Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko continues to appeal to Primore's miners not to hold krai residents "hostage" to the dispute over wage arrears. However, the miners refuse to resume coal shipments. RFE/RL's correspondent reported yesterday that the miners issued a statement asking the public to understand their protest against six months of wage delays. The statement likened the current situation to 1989, when deprivation prompted coal miners to carry out massive protests against the Soviet authorities.




ARMENIAN DEFENSE MINISTER COMMENTS ON RUSSIAN ARMS SUPPLIES

Vazgen Sarkisyan has admitted that Armenia received arms from Russia but insists that "we only received our share, [which was} less than we should have gotten. We did not do anything clandestine or illegal." In an interview published in Nezavisimaya gazeta on 14 May, Sarkisyan said Azerbaijan appropriated "enviable" amounts of military hardware when the Soviet Union collapsed. He added "it is not our fault" that Azerbaijan subsequently abandoned such large quantities in Nagorno- Karabakh that the Karabakh armed forces "could now continue fighting for another few years if anyone decided to resume hostilities." Sarkisyan termed the Russian press revelations of alleged clandestine armed shipments to Armenia as a "preventive ideological blow by Azerbaijan."

ECO SUMMIT ENDS...

Leaders from the 10 member nations of the Economic Cooperation Organization ended their "extraordinary" meeting in the Turkmen capital, Ashgabat, by signing a declaration on developing transportation and communications networks and several tentative agreements on fuel pipeline routes. Heads of state from Iran, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Kazakstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan met with the prime ministers of Pakistan and Kyrgyzstan. Afghanistan's ousted President Burhanuddin Rabanni also attended. The presidents of Iran, Pakistan, and Turkmenistan signed a memorandum on constructing a pipeline from Turkmenistan to Europe via Iran and Turkey. ITAR-TASS reported that the Turkmen president, the Pakistani prime minister, and heads of the U.S. Unocal company and Saudi Arabia's Delta Corp. signed a protocol on the Turkmen-Afghan-Pakistani pipeline.

...FOLLOWING DISCUSSIONS ON AFHGANISTAN

The Taliban sent a message to the participants in which they complained about not receiving an invitation to the summit and accused both Iran and Tajikistan of interfering in Afghanistan's internal affairs, according to an RFE/RL correspondent in Ashgabat. Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif sought support for the Muslims of India, and Uzbek President Islam Karimov asked him to publicly state that Islamabad will no longer support the Taliban. Later at a press conference, Karimov said the problems in Afghanistan will not cease until outside interference "by a number of foreign governments" stops. When asked which governments he meant, Karimov said "the prime minister of Pakistan...should answer that question."

STORMS WREAK HAVOC ON UZBEK COTTON CROP

Recent storms in Uzbekistan have damaged more than 60% of this year's cotton crop, RFE/RL correspondents in Tashkent report. Of the 1.5 million hectares sown, 982,000 have been damaged in storms that over ten days dumped as much as double the annual average rainfall. Nearly 300,000 hectares will have to be replanted, but officials remain optimistic that Uzbekistan will reach its target of 4 million tons of cotton this year. Cotton accounted for 40% of Uzbek exports last year.




REACTIONS TO RUSSIAN-NATO AGREEMENT

Czech President Vaclav Havel told reporters in Washington that he welcomes the Russian-NATO "founding act," signed in Moscow yesterday. But he urged the U.S. to limit concessions to Russia on future deployment of military forces and equipment in new member states. Polish Foreign Minister Dariusz Rosati said in Warsaw that his country welcomes the agreement but will seek some form of representation on the new council to be set up by Moscow and NATO. Hungarian Prime Minister Gyula Horn, speaking to reporters in Germany, also welcomed the Russian-NATO partnership deal. Hungarian Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs told reporters in Budapest he believed the agreement would not create any difficulties for those countries that wanted to join NATO. Slovak Foreign Minister Pavol Hamzik said during a visit to Poland that he is satisfied with the agreement. Romanian Foreign Minister Adrian Severin told Romanian Radio yesterday that Budapest hopes the agreement refers only to relations between NATO and Russia and not to the future of other countries, which, he said, must be free to make their own choices.

BALTIC STATES CAUTIOUS ABOUT RUSSIAN-NATO AGREEMENT

Lithuanian Parliamentary Chairman Vytautas Landsbergis told journalists yesterday that his country-- as a prospective member of NATO--would like to see the text of the Russian-NATO agreement before it is signed in Paris on 27 May. A senior Latvian diplomat told Reuters that "the very fact that NATO and Russia are cooperating is good...so long as they do not use Baltic membership [in NATO] as a bargaining chip." A spokesman for the Estonian Foreign Ministry told journalists that "the fact that Russia and NATO have made a step in developing their relations is positive." Estonian President Lennart Meri, on a visit to Hungary, said yesterday he was hopeful about the latest Russia-NATO talks but urged the alliance to commit itself to welcoming new East European members in future years. He also said Russia was still "an evil empire" and called on former Soviet republics and Warsaw Pact states to challenge it.

DEMONSTRATION IN MINSK OVER PLANNED UNION WITH RUSSIA

Several hundred people demonstrated in Minsk yesterday to protest plans for a union between Belarus and Russia, Reuters reported. Among those addressing the crowd was former parliamentary chairman Semyon Sharetsk, who lost his post when the parliament was disbanded by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka after a controversial referendum last November. A period of public discussion on the planned union ends tomorrow, and a union charter is due to be signed by Lukashenka and Russian President Boris Yeltsin on 23 May. Meanwhile, Yeltsin said yesterday on Russian TV that he favors a complete merger of Russia with Belarus as the culmination of the integration process between the two Slavic states. He remarked that union would mean the two countries would be "very close," to the point of "being a single state."

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT IN U.S.

Leonid Kuchma arrived in the U.S. yesterday on a three-day official. Together with U.S. Vice President Al Gore, he will chair the first session of a bilateral commission that is to discuss prospects for the development of relations between the two countries. Kuchma is also scheduled to meet with U.S. President Bill Clinton, IMF Managing Director Michel Camdessus, and World Bank President James Wolfensohn. Meanwhile, U.S. State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns says the NATO- Russia agreement will not have a direct impact on a NATO charter being negotiated with Ukraine. Burns says the U.S. and NATO hope to establish a "singular" relationship with Kyiv.

UKRAINE, ARMENIA, GEORGIA ENDORSE CFE AMENDMENTS

Prior to his departure for Washington, Kuchma told journalists that Ukraine has joined the so- called Flank Agreement to the CFE treaty, Interfax reported. The Armenian parliament also ratified the agreement on 14 May, RFE/RL's Yerevan Bureau reported. The agreement increases the number of troops and tanks that Russia can deploy in the Caucasus and therefore requires Armenia to cede part of its quota to Russia. The Georgian parliament ratified the agreement on 13 May. Previously, Ukraine, together with Moldova, Azerbaijan, and Georgia, had expressed reservations about endorsing the new limitations.

COUNCIL OF EUROPE WILL NOT SUSPEND UKRAINE

Leni Fischer, the president of the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly, told reporters in Kyiv yesterday that the suspension of Ukraine "is not on the [council's] agenda," despite what she called Kyiv's inconsistent progress toward abolishing the death penalty. The Parliamentary Assembly warned Ukraine in January that it might suspend Kyiv if it failed to keep its promise, made when it joined the council two years ago, to end the death penalty. The Justice Ministry says executions ceased that month. Recently, Ukraine again pledged to abolish the death penalty by signing Protocol Six of the European Human Rights Convention. Kyiv reportedly put 169 criminals to death last year.

CRIMEAN TATARS DEMONSTRATE

About 250 Crimean Tatars picketed the Council of Ministers building in Simferopol yesterday, demanding the recognition of their rights as a national minority of Ukraine and the right to return to their homeland following forced deportation in the Soviet era, dpa reported. In particular, the protesters demanded the government grant Ukrainian citizenship, jobs, housing, and equal educational rights for the Tatars, many of whom recently returned from deportation in the 1940s. Organizers of the protest met with Arkadi Demidenko, the chairman of the Crimean Council of Ministers, who promised quick action.

POPULARITY OF CZECH PRIME MINISTER'S PARTY DROPS SHARPLY

An opinion poll by the Institute for Public Opinion Research, published in Czech media yesterday, shows that Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus's Civic Democratic Party (ODS) is now trailing the opposition Social Democrats (CSSD) by 7%. The CSSD has the support of 25% of the respondents and the ODS only 18%--a drop of five percentage points since the last poll a month ago. The Christian and Democratic Union of Deputy Prime Minister Josef Lux came third with 14%, followed by the coalition Civic Democratic Alliance with 10%. The only other party that would pass the 5% electoral hurdle is the Communist Party, with 6%.

SLOVAK FOREIGN MINISTER SEES NO ALTERNATIVE TO NATO MEMBERSHIP

Pavol Hamzik, speaking at a joint session of the foreign committees of the bicameral Polish parliament yesterday, said full-fledged membership in NATO and the EU is the only possibility for Slovakia, Polish and Slovak media reported. Commenting on the possibility that Slovakia will be left out of the first wave of NATO expansion, Hamzik said "we in Slovakia do not have the feeling that we have not accomplished something. Slovakia was in a more difficult position than the Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary, and we have still attained good results in economic transformation." Hamzik told reporters later that "the main political forces in the country favor Slovakia's entry into NATO and that 54% of citizens support it." He also met with President Aleksander Kwasniewski.

AGREEMENT ON U.S. TROOPS STATIONED IN HUNGARY

Hungarian Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs and U.S. Ambassador to Budapest Donald Blinken yesterday signed an agreement on the status of U.S. soldiers stationed on Hungarian territory, Budapest dailies report. Kovacs said the agreement is a compromise that breaches neither Hungarian nor U.S. laws. Hungary is the first non-NATO country to sign a comprehensive accord on the presence of U.S. armed forces that have an IFOR/SFOR mandate. However, once that mandate expires, the parliament will have to pass separate resolutions on the presence of U.S. troops in the country.




ALBANIAN POLITICIANS STEP BACK FROM BRINK

The presidential spokeswoman said in Tirana yesterday that Sali Berisha will hold off signing the decree on new elections and the dissolution of the parliament until he holds talks with the opposition. Socialist Prime Minister Bashkim Fino is seeking to persuade anti-Berisha members of the government and the parliament not to resign until it is clear whether a deal to change Berisha's new election law is indeed in the offing (see RFE/RL Newsline, 14 May 1997). The opposition says it will boycott the 29 June vote unless Berisha agrees to key changes in the law. Meanwhile, Franz Vranitzky, the OSCE's special envoy for Albania, arrived in Tirana today.

OTHER NEWS ON ALBANIA

Greek authorities briefly closed the main border crossing to Albania at Kakavia yesterday following a shoot-out on the Albanian side that left three wounded. The Public Order Ministry in Athens demanded that foreign troops patrol the Albanian side. In Rome, the Italian government called an international conference on aiding Albania for 18 June. In Vlora, a Greek man became the first foreigner killed in the current chaos. Earlier, the city's police chief resigned, saying "the police are no longer able to ensure order." Armed gangs are out of control in Vlora and have attacked the police station. And in Tirana, the parliament passed a law allowing for commercial radio and television stations. But it is unclear whether this will lead to the loosening of state controls on the electronic media, since a government commission will decide who gets licenses.

ALBRIGHT TO STRESS DAYTON IMPLEMENTATION TO CROATS...

U.S. State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns says that Secretary of State Madeleine Albright will discuss implementing the Dayton accords today with visiting Croatian Foreign Minister Mate Granic, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Washington yesterday. Burns added that Albright will also raise with Granic reports that Croatian authorities are putting Bosnian and Kosovar Croats into the homes of Serbs in the Krajina region. He said the U.S. is concerned that Zagreb has not taken the steps necessary to facilitate the return of ethnic Serb refugees.

...WHILE CROATIA REACTS DEFENSIVELY

In Zagreb, the government announced that its new plan for the return of refugees will effectively annul an earlier law that stripped Serbian refugees of their property. The spokesman gave no details. Meanwhile, Croatian pro-government media and Croatian-U.S. organizations have complained recently that articles on Croatian fascism, Serbian refugees' property, and related topics in the New York Times are part of an alleged U.S. campaign to discredit President Franjo Tudjman's government.

GALA CELEBRATION FOR TUDJMAN'S BIRTHDAY

Some 750 guests took part in festivities in the Croatian National Theater in Zagreb last night to mark Tudjman's 75th birthday. Speakers especially extolled what they called Tudjman's great role in Croatian history. This latest stage in the personality cult surrounding Tudjman comes just weeks before presidential elections, which he is expected to win handily. In other news, the World Bank announced in Washington yesterday that it will give Croatia a $95 million loan to improve banking and speed up privatization.

BOSNIAN UPDATE

Croatian deputies belonging to the Croatian Democratic Community walked out of the federal parliament in Sarajevo yesterday after a disagreement with Muslims over redrawing district boundaries, Oslobodjenje reports today. Also in the Bosnian capital, U.S. diplomats announced a project to restore train service from Sarajevo via Brcko to Budapest by September, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Sarajevo. Elsewhere in that city, federal and Republika Srpska negotiators concluded the first part of an agreement on commercial exchanges. The final accord is due on 21 May. In Mostar, Western diplomats expressed concern about the public use of fascist slogans by local Croat military officials. The diplomats also objected to plans by Croat officials to dig up the common graves of Muslims and Croats who died together fighting the Serbs in 1992. And in Brcko, OSCE officials said the elections there will go ahead despite the threat of a Croatian and Muslim boycott.

NEWS FROM FEDERAL YUGOSLAVIA

Striking medical workers agreed in Belgrade yesterday to continue their protest over back pay. They accused the government of not negotiating "seriously," an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Serbian capital. In Podgorica, Montenegrin President Momir Bulatovic announced that the republic's presidential elections will be held later this year at the same time as the vote in Serbia. His Democratic Socialist Party launched an initiative to nominate Bulatovic for another term. The president himself sounded very much like a politician on the stump when he went to Pljevlja and appealed to world financial organizations to restore federal Yugoslavia's full rights and memberships, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Sandzak town.

CLUJ LOCAL COUNCIL CRITICIZES MAYOR

A majority on the Cluj municipal council has criticized nationalist Mayor Gheorghe Funar for demanding the cancellation of Hungarian President Arpad Goencz's planned visit to the city (see RFE/RL Newsline, 13 May 1997). In a statement published in the local press, the councilors say they will not grant permission for the mayor to organize demonstrations against the visit. The council also says that Funar has received false information from "dubious historians" since a book he attributes to Goencz and calls "irredentist" was only translated by the Hungarian president and was, in fact, written before World War II. Meanwhile, Hungarian Foreign Ministry spokesman Gabor Szentivanyi, said Funar's protest was an "isolated case" and that the majority of Romanian political parties, as well as the population, back the "positive trends" in the two countries' relations, MTI reported.

ROMANIA'S ROMA DEMAND RESTITUTION

The Roma community in Romania is demanding the restitution of goods confiscated by the fascist and communist regimes. The Ion Budai Deleanu Foundation and Roma leader Iulian Radulescu, who calls himself Emperor Iulian I, say in a letter addressed to the parliament, the president's office, and the Council of Europe yesterday that the regime of Marshal Ion Antonescu and the Communists confiscated goods estimated at 12,500 billion lei (some $178 million) from the Roma community. Mediafax reported that the letter also demands a census be conducted to establish the real number of Roma living today in Romania (the 1992 census put the number at less than half a million, but estimates speak of 3 million and more).

UPDATE ON TIRASPOL LEADER'S READING OF MEMORANDUM WITH CHISINAU

Igor Smirnov says people living in the breakaway Transdniester region will not be allowed to participate in the Moldovan parliamentary elections scheduled for this year. Addressing a press conference in Tiraspol earlier this week, Smirnov said the 8 May memorandum envisaging a common state "does not mean that either [signatory] will renounce its statehood and participate in the other's elections." He said Chisinau was likely to exploit the signing of the memorandum to achieve the ratification of the 1992 Russian-Moldovan basic treaty. But he added that "one should not forget that the [Russian] State Duma has recognized the Transdniester as a zone of Russian strategic interest," Infotag reported on 14 May.

DETAILS ON NEW BULGARIAN CABINET

Premier- designate Ivan Kostov says he will present his cabinet to President Petar Stoyanov on 19 May and that many members of the caretaker cabinet will belong to the new executive. RFE/RL's Sofia bureau reported that Kostov wants Industry Minister Alexander Bozhkov and Interior Minister Bogomil Bonev to keep their posts. Labor Minister Ivan Neikov is also likely to remain in office. Nadezhda Mihailova, the deputy leader of the United Democratic Forces (ODS), is likely to be the next foreign minister, while ODS members Muravei Radev and Valentin Vassilev seem set to become finance and trade ministers, respectively.




"A Big Victory for Reason"


by Paul Goble

Like the 1975 Helsinki Final Act to which it is already being compared, the new Russia-NATO "founding act" is likely to prove to be both less and more than its signatories now claim and expect.

On the one hand, comments about the agreement by Russian and NATO leaders show that the two sides have not resolved all their differences and do not even agree on the meaning of certain key provisions in the agreement which the two sides have signed. These differences will inevitably spark new disputes and make future rounds of negotiations every bit as difficult as the one that produced this accord.

But on the other hand, this "founding act" -- just like the Helsinki accords -- is far more significant than the sum of the provisions it includes. The existence of such an agreement transforms the existing geopolitical landscape by generating expectations with which both sides will have to cope even as they seek to advance their own very different positions. This combination of expectations and institutions almost certainly will have an impact on both Russia and NATO in ways that perhaps neither now intends or expects.

On 14 May, NATO Secretary General Javier Solana and Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov announced in Moscow that they had reached agreement on a Russia- NATO accord, a step that Primakov described as "a big victory for reason" and "a big victory for Russia." Called a "founding act" rather than a binding treaty, as Moscow had earlier insisted, the accord creates a Russia-NATO joint council that is to meet twice a year in Brussels to discuss common concerns. It calls for the strengthening of the OSCE and additional revisions in the CFE treaty, both provisions Moscow had sought. And it also contains a pledge, but not a guarantee, from NATO that the Western alliance will not place nuclear weapons on the territory of any new member states.

As such, the accord is a series of important compromises, with each side being able to claim some kind of victory. But the statements of Russian President Boris Yeltsin and U.S. President Bill Clinton suggest that the two sides remain much further apart than either would like to admit.

Acknowledging that Moscow had been unable to block the eastern expansion of the Western alliance, Yeltsin argued on Wednesday that the agreement will at least "minimize the risk for Russia" of a step NATO has long been pledged to take. But the Russian president then made a claim that the accord gives Russia an effective veto over NATO's actions through its participation in the new joint council, something NATO countries -- both individually and collectively --have repeatedly pledged not to do. "Decisions there can be taken only by consensus. If Russia is against some decision, it means this decision will not go through," Yeltsin commented.

President Clinton, however, made it very clear in his remarks welcoming the accord that Russia would not have that kind of power: "Russia will work closely with NATO but not in NATO, giving Russia a voice but not a veto." Paradoxically, both leaders may prove correct. President Clinton is certainly right in asserting that Russia will not have a veto over NATO decisions. Even if Moscow has a voice in the new joint council, it will not have a voice, much less a veto, over most NATO decisions taken elsewhere.

But President Yeltsin may also prove to be correct in asserting that Russia will have some kind of veto, even if not the absolute one he claims. The creation of the new council means that all NATO members will be thinking about the implications there of any decisions they make in other venues. And such reflections will inevitably have an impact on alliance decision-making.

When the Helsinki Final Act was signed in 1975, few could see the way in which its provisions, especially those concerning human rights, would transform the world, helping to bring down communism and the Soviet system. Now, 22 years later, another accord has been signed between East and West, one that Yeltsin has already compared to Helsinki. It would be foolish to assume that this breakthrough agreement will not have consequences far beyond its specific language, even if some of its provisions are never implemented.


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