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Russia: U.S. Officials Prepare For Upcoming Summit

Moscow, 7 March 1997 (RFE/RL) - U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbot left Moscow today after one day of intense talks before a Russia-U.S. summit in Helsinki this month.

The press secretary of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, Richard Hoogland, says Talbot's visit was aimed mainly at discussing with Russian officials the details of the summit March 19 and 20 between U.S. President Bill Clinton and Russia's President Boris Yeltsin.

According to Hoogland, no public announcement was made on the visit because of its strictly working character.

Hoogland declined to disclose details of the talks, but said they had focused mostly on NATO expansion.

Russia opposes the NATO expansion but has agreed to negotiate a charter with the 16-member Alliance. The charter is to guide future relations. Russia insists the document should include mutual obligations, reducing its fears that nuclear weapons could be located near its borders, following NATO?s enlargement.

Hoogland said bi-lateral disarmament and European security issues were discussed in the framework of the NATO talks. Russian observers, quoting Russian Foreign Ministry officials, said economic issues were also high on the agenda of Talbot's meeting with Russian officials.

Talbot's visit to Moscow was the last leg of a five-day trip to Europe during which he met Alliance ambassadors in Brussels.

NATO Secretary General Javier Solana comes to Moscow this weekend for a third round of negotiations on the NATO-Russia charter. Solana already held two rounds of talks with Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov in Moscow and in Brussels.

Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic are leading candidates for NATO membership. NATO plans to open its doors to negotiations with new members at a special summit in Madrid, Spain, in July

Interfax news agency quoted Primakov as expressing his belief his weekend negotiations with Solana will be a success. Primakov then travels to Washington next week for further negotiations with U.S. officials.

Primakov's optimism seems to be widely shared in Moscow. The defense commentator of the respected Russian weekly "Itogi," Alexsandr Golz, told RFE/RL the Russian side's optimism lies in the extremely serious character of the negotiations that are been conducted among U.S., NATO and Russian officials. According to Golz, in the last few months negotiators have been discussing, in detail, every stumbling block in the dispute, making serious proposals aimed at their solution.

And Golz says expectation is growing in Moscow that the Yeltsin-Clinton summit may mark a turning point in the final solution of the dispute.

Yeltsin said in his state-of-the-Federation address that NATO's enlargement plans will cause direct damage to Russia's security. He also said Russia fears that behind the enlargement is the desire to oust Russia from Europe. However, following the speech, State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said the U.S. considered it "not surprising" that Yeltsin reiterated his opposition to opening NATO membership to Eastern European countries.