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Russia: NATO Opens Talks On Cooperation

Prague, 21 January 1997 (RFE/RL) - Five hours of talks in Mescherino near Moscow yesterday between NATO Secretary General Javier Solana and Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov produced no immediately noticeable result. But then, none was expected.

A joint statement plainly acknowledged that "different approaches to a whole range of issues exist." It added that "discussions will be continued," but that "this will not be an easy process, but both sides will strive to make it a success."

NATO spokesman John Lough described the meeting as "a round one" in negotiations on the future NATO-Russia relationship. He was echoed by Russia's Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky.

No details on the talks have been released. The Western Alliance hopes to negotiate a lasting arrangement of cooperative relations with Russia that would eventually lead to the creation of a comprehensive security system in Europe. The main stumbling problem is NATO's plan to expand eastward by accepting "one or more" former Warsaw Pact members into the Alliance. Moscow has strongly opposed that move. The two issues are treated separately, but they are clearly closely related.

Solana reportedly brought to Moscow a package of proposals designed to mollify Russia's opposition. These are said to have included possible concessions on arms-control problems, particularly changes in the treaty on conventional forces in Europe that Russia have long sought, and, which are subject to negotiations starting today in Vienna, and to an invitation to a new strategic arms reduction treaty (START III).

Solana was reported to be prepared to offer to Russia a new program of economic assistance and, above all, an agreement setting out in a kind of a "charter" a permanent consultative relationship that would give Russia the right to take part -- but not to veto -- in the formulation of the alliance's policies on such issues as nuclear proliferation, the fight against terrorism and peace-keeping operations. This charter would have a relatively informal character to avoid a long and cumbersome procedure of ratification by all member states.

Russia is said to insist on a much more formal and legally binding arrangement. Moscow wants a detailed agreement, giving each side specific rights and obligations. "Moscow no longer believes smooth-worded commitments behind which there are no concrete practical acts," said Yastrzhembsky. And, Moscow is said to seek several undertakings from NATO before any agreement is accepted and signed.

These are reported to include three demands.

First, Moscow wants a written NATO guarantee that no nuclear weapons could or would be deployed on the territory of any new members. NATO has already said that it "has no intention, no plan and no reason" to deploy nuclear weapons there, but Moscow wants it spelled out in a formal pact.

Second, Russia wants NATO to provide a formal guarantee that no foreign troops will be stationed and no permanent military bases be set up on the territory of new members. Moscow insists that such a guarantee be given before any expansion is decided and implemented.

This would effectively give the new members different and weaker status than that maintained by the current ones.

And Moscow is said to demand that the expansion process stops at selected Central European countries, precluding the future membership of such countries as Ukraine and the Baltic states. Influential NATO leaders have already hinted that neither Ukraine, which does not seek an immediate entry, nor the Baltics would be considered for an early admission. But the Alliance also said that the enlargement process is -- and will -- remain open to all.

Russia clearly recognizes that NATO is going East. Speaking recently with ITAR-TASS agency, Primakov said that Moscow "has no right to veto the dangerous prospect of NATO expansion." But Russia is also clearly determined to get the best bargain in the talks on its relationship with the Alliance. The talks, which are to resume within weeks at a technical level, are certain to be difficult and tough.

NATO officials have hoped that the talks could produce an agreement by the time of NATO's Madrid summit to be held July 8-9, when the first Eastern candidates for membership will be announced. But the Alliance also said that it is prepared to negotiate the charter with Russia even longer.