Munich, 14 February 1997 (RFE/RL) - Germany's Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel visits Moscow next week to meet Russia's Foreign Minister Yevgeni Primakov and other top officials to discuss the expansion of NATO by the presumed inclusion of Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic.
RFE/RL's correspondent in Munich reports Kinkel's visit is part of a continuing effort by Germany and France to soften Moscow's opposition to the move. Officials in Bonn say Germany's Chancellor Helmut Kohl hopes to present an expansion scheme acceptable to Moscow to the NATO summit in July .
U.S. officials have said previously they are sceptical of some of the fears expressed by Moscow concerning the effects of NATO expansion and Russia's threats to retaliate if the expansion goes ahead as planned. The officials argue that Moscow is trying to create a bargaining position -- it will reluctantly accept NATO expansion if it gets something worthwhile in return.
Even Kinkel said in Bonn last month, "Russia knows it cannot prevent the expansion of NATO. By taking a hard line it is trying to negotiate the best price it can for itself."
Our correspondent says that this month, the chief of Russia's Federal Security Service, Nikolai Kovalev, told an international conference in Davos, Switzerland that expansion of NATO could provoke a wave of terrorist attacks on new NATO facilities in former Warsaw Pact countries.
Russia's Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin argues frequently that expansion of NATO could "inflame nationalistic, anti-Western and militaristic tendencies in Russian public opinion." Western commentators note that at the same time Chernomyrdin has frequently acknowledged that Moscow cannot veto expansion, but wants certain guarantees as compensation.
Kohl visited President Boris Yeltsin in Moscow last month and came away confident a solution could be found to Russia's expressed fears. Our Munich correspondent says Kohl was reticent about what he actually proposed to Yeltsin. It is also unclear how far the ideas presented by Kohl are supported by other members of NATO. Germany's government says other NATO countries have been kept fully informed about Kohl's initiative. Kohl was followed to Moscow a few weeks later by France's President Jacques Chirac, who is believed to have presented much the same ideas as Germany's Kohl.
Some of Russia's demands are known. They include guarantees that no nuclear weapons or NATO troops are to be stationed on the territory of new NATO members.
Russia has also demanded that it be allowed a veto right over NATO's security decisions. The United States has said firmly that is unacceptable to Washington. A top American diplomat at an arms-control conference in Vienna this week tells RFE/RL that this demand was an example of Russia making a demand it knew was unacceptable in the hope of getting an important concession as a "compromise"
The new U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright will also be visiting Moscow in the next few days to talk to Primakov and other officials. Kinkel will confer with her in Bonn on Monday before leaving for Moscow.
Albright laid out the U.S. government's position in testimony this week to the International Relations Committee of the House of Representatives. She acknowledged bluntly that there was little the United States or any other Western country could do to soften Moscow's opposition to an enlarged alliance. She acknowledged that Russia did have some legitimate concerns and said these should be addressed.
In words that she will presumably repeat in Moscow, Albright said: "it is not in our interest to delay or derail a process which is helping to build a reunited Europe." Albright argued that delaying the expansion of NATO to pacify Moscow would create a "permanent source of tension and insecurity in Europe."
The United States and NATO have agreed that expansion of NATO should be accompanied by a formal charter with Moscow on security issues. Our correspondent reports the charter would permit joint cooperation, consultation and training with Russia in response to crises, but would not allow Russia to have a legally-binding veto.
NATO's Secretary-General Javier Solana already held preliminary talks with Russia on the proposed security charter. Officials say the first round was not very productive. NATO would like negotiators to reach an agreement on the security charter by June, so it to can be reviewed in Western capitals and in Moscow before NATO's July summit.
In another effort to reach agreement, France proposed a mini-summit of the United States, Russia, Germany, Britain and France itself in April in advance of the NATO summit in Madrid, and shortly after the bilateral meeting between Presidents Clinton Yeltsin in Helsinki. The French initiative was apparently discussed by Chirac during his visit to Moscow, and has since been publicly welcomed by Russia. Germany also reacted positively. U.S. diplomats say Washington will probably not make a decision until after next month's Clinton-Yeltsin summit in Helsinki.
But diplomats in Bonn concede that not all NATO countries are pleased with this idea of a five-power summit. Our correspondent reports smaller states, such as Italy, Holland and Belgium, are concerned that France and Germany are trying to create a "directorate" of great powers within NATO. Italy rejected the proposal this week, saying NATO expansion affects all 16 members of the organization. After Kohl met Italy's Prime Minister Romano Prodi, Kohl described Italy's concerns as "mistaken and wrong".
Germany's long-serving and much-respected former foreign minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, speaking to local press, censured what he called the "feverish efforts to cajole Moscow into accepting NATO expansion by gestures." Genscher also criticized the French proposal for a mini-summit in advance of the NATO meeting. He noted that there had been no vote on this within NATO as a whole, and said smaller NATO countries, such as the Benelux states, rejected a "directorate" of large powers. He said the very suggestion of such a body had aroused concern and criticism.
Genscher said it would be "poisonous" for the future cohesion and unity of NATO if the small states suspected that the most important and serious issues were being decided over their heads.