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Germany's Foreign Minister: NATO Must Proceed Carefully

Munich, June 10 (RFE/RL) -- Germany's Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel says NATO must proceed carefully with the planned expansion of NATO, and open a dialogue with Russia.

In an interview carried today by the Munich newspaper "Suddeutsche Zeitung", Kinkel welcomed what he called the softer approach adopted by Russia at last week's NATO meeting in Berlin, but said care was still required.

In Berlin, Russia's Foreign Minister Yevgeni Primakov told NATO's foreign ministers that Moscow "understood" that central european countries wanted to join NATO, but repeated previous statements that Russia did not want NATO's military structure extended to its borders.

In today's interview, the "Suddeutsche Zeitung" noted that Kinkel has reacted with reserve to the Russian statement, and referred to it only as a "cautious step forward." In interviews with other newspapers, Kinkel has cautioned reporters against concluding that the door was now open for central european countries to join the alliance. The "Suddeutsche Zeitung" asked the Foreign Minister why he was so reserved.

Kinkel replied that the Russian statement must be "assessed realistically." He said Russia's attitude to the eastward expansion of NATO had not fundamentally changed, but Primakov had indicated Russia was now ready for a dialogue on the matter. "Primakov expressed understanding that NATO wants to bring in new members," he said. "However, Russia opposes moving NATO's military structures up to Russia's borders."

The Foreign Minister was asked if this was not a significant move forward. The newspaper said that until now the most Russia would accept was that states such as Poland should have a political link to NATO; that is, without military integration."

In reply, Kinkel said: "In Berlin, one could obtain the impression that Russia no longer so categorically rejects the expansion of NATO, but is beginning to think about acceptable arrangements. Primakov explicitly said Russia is now ready to participate in the dialogue which NATO has long offered."

Kinkel said Primakov had acknowledged that Russia could not veto the expansion of NATO. He agreed with the newspaper that Primakov had never previously said this so clearly as he did in Berlin.

"We are moving carefully towards one another," Kinkel added. "We must get away from the ritualised statements of both sides."

Kinkel was asked how far NATO could go to meet Russia's concerns.

He replied: "for good reasons, we will now wait for the elections in Russia and in America. By the end of this year or early next year we will look again. In the meantime, the dialogue with Russia has to begin. We want to make Russia a part of the new European security structure and will do so. We do not want to exclude Russia."