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Primakov Displays Flexibility On NATO

Munich, Mar 13 (RFE/RL) - Hungary's Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs says his Russian colleague, Yevgeny Primakov, appeared "slightly more flexible" about the enlargement of NATO during their talks in Moscow this week.

Kovacs told reporters in Budapest that Primakov remained opposed to the eastward expansion of NATO, but he said it might be possible to find a compromise taking into account the interests of Russia.

Kovacs said Primakov's prime concern was that NATO might station troops and nuclear weapons in central and east european countries surrounding Russia.

Kovacs said Primakov gave the impression Russia might take a less hostile attitude if there was an agreement not to do this.

Primakov asked Kovacs whether Hungary wants to be a full member of NATO, or was interested only in joining its political wing. Kovacs said he replied that Hungary wants full membership, but stressed that Budapest's policy was not directed against Russia.

Kovacs said he and Primakov also discussed the differences between potential NATO members which share a border with Russia and those which do not, such as Hungary.

Kovacs said he made clear to Primakov that Hungary intended to join NATO, despite Russia's attitude.

NATO has said previously that a timetable for beginning discussions with potential new members will be decided at a meeting of the NATO council in December. NATO officials have said they expect negotiations to begin next year.

Primakov tomorrow is scheduled to begin a two-day visit to Poland, which - like Hungary - is considered a leading candidate for NATO membership.

Poland's Foreign Minister Dariusz Rosati this week told the Reuter News Agency that he will try to persuade Primakov that Warsaw's desire to join NATO will improve - not threaten security in Europe. Rosati said, "We would like to persuade our Russian partners that it is in the interests of stability in Europe that we do not leave any grey area in the central part of the continent."

Citing Poland's centuries-long, uncomfortable role as buffer and battlefield between its powerful neighbours Germany and Russia, Rosati repeated Warsaw's position that it wants to anchor itself firmly to the West. "History teaches us that whenever...there was a grey area or a buffer zone in Europe it was an invitation for trouble," he said.

Rosati said NATO's enlargement would in fact be in Russia's interest, broadening the security area in Europe, and transforming the alliance in a way that could suit Moscow. He also said Poland would welcome a broad security agreement between NATO and Russia, if that would ease Moscow's concerns.