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Russia: Lebed Tours NATO Military Command Center

Belgium, 8 October 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Russian Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed today visited the nerve center of NATO's military command in southern Belgium, where he met the alliance's top commander in Europe, U.S. General George Joulwan.

Lebed, in the second day of talks with NATO and Western European Union (WEU) officials in Belgium, reviewed troops from the 16 alliance member states before holding talks with Joulwan.

No details of their talks have been released.

Earlier today, in Brussels, Lebed visited WEU headquarters. He went on to meet Belgian members of parliament before holding talks with Belgian Defense Minister Jean-Pol Poncelet.

Speaking to reporters following the talks, Lebed praised the joint peacekeeping operation of Russian and NATO-led troops in Bosnia as an example of how former Cold War foes can cooperate.

Lebed also held talks today with the WEU's Secretary-General Jose Cutileiro. Lebed said a civilized West would not seek to threaten Russia and that dialogue would continue. Russia and NATO "will find an agreement in a civilized manner." And he said he believes Russia's unstable southern flank presents a greater threat to Moscow than former cold war enemies in the West.

Meanwhile, NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana has proposed assigning Russian liaison officers at virtually all levels of the alliance's command structure in order to defuse Moscow's fears of NATO expansion. Solana has said an exchange of officers could form part of a new charter governing all aspects of NATO-Russia relations.

NATO says a new deal with Russia could run in parallel with plans to take in new members from Central and Eastern Europe but rejects Moscow's attempts to link the two issues.

Meanwhile, in Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov met his French counterpart Herve de Charette today to discuss NATO's plans to expand into Eastern Europe.

Interfax quotes Primakov as saying that he and de Charette discussed the possibility of holding a summit in the middle of next year on NATO's transformation and, in particular, on relations between Russia and the Western alliance. He said France and Russia agreed on the need to formulate a special relationship.

During a joint news conference, Primakov said there is no doubt NATO can and must play a major role in the organization of European security. But "it cannot be the pivotal body for that or take on all the functions necessary for ensuring security on the continent."

Primakov said Russia wants an agreement that would remove Moscow's concerns about NATO's plans to accept new members from Eastern Europe. He said such an agreement should be more than just a declaration, but he did not elaborate.

The agency did not carry any comments from De Charette. The French foreign minister is on the second leg of a five-nation tour that will next take him to Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan.