Munich, 12 March 1997 (RFE/RL) - Western diplomats say Russia and NATO have made progress towards an agreement on Russia's relationship with the Western Alliance and Moscow's role in European security -- but that there are still major problems to be resolved.
Diplomats in Bonn and at the arms talks in Vienna tell RFE/RL progress is fastest in the political chapter of the proposed agreement. Most of the outstanding problems are in the military chapter, which deals, among other things, with NATO's relations with new members in Central and Eastern Europe.
NATO Secretary General Javier Solana and Russia's Foreign Minister Yevgeni Primakov held a third round of talks on the agreement in Moscow Sunday. Germany's Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel said this week that Primakov gave Solana four documents expressing Russian views on several of the problem areas. Primakov will also discuss Russia's proposals when he visits Washington this week.
Western diplomats said they understood that NATO and Primakov are close to agreement on a system of permanent consulations. It is expected that meetings of a "joint council" would take place at least once a month. A number of issues, under the broad heading of security, have been agreed as suitable for the "joint council." They include European security problems, possible joint peace-keeping operations, international terrorism, nuclear proliferation and military actions, which could lead to trans-border environmental problems.
Diplomats tell our correspondent that other issues will also be taken up as the need arises. The Western diplomats emphasize that, although Russia will participate fully in the discussions, it will not have a veto over any NATO operation.
Diplomats said the problems in the military chapter of the agreement are proving much more difficult to resolve, because Russia argues that its security is under threat. They say Russia wants to restrict NATO activities on the territory of its new members in Central and Eastern Europe.
For instance, Russia wants a ban on NATO stationing troops in Central and East European states, which join the Alliance. Moscow insists that it does not want highly trained American or other NATO troops based anywhere near its borders. NATO's position is that it must have the right to dispatch troops to Central or East European countries on a temporary basis for military exercises or security emergencies.
NATO insists there can be no "second class" membership for Central and East European states which join the Alliance. In the West, troops from any NATO country move regularly between the others on maneuvers or for other reasons. NATO says the same must apply in the new member countries.
Russia also claims to be concerned about NATO's military infrastructure moving into Central and Eastern Europe, and greatly enhancing the fighting capacity of these states. Russia's position is that NATO should not give any state in Central or Eastern Europe an attack capacity, which goes beyond its current systems.
Diplomats said most of these differences are being negotiated at separate negotiations in Vienna on revising the current treaty (the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty - CFE), which limits the size and location of tanks, artillery and other conventional arms in Europe. This conference is expected to continue until the middle of next year and possibly until 1999. This means there will only be a broad reference to its goals in this year's Russia-NATO bi-lateral agreement.
The nature of the agreement is still under discussion. Germany's Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel said this week there are indications that Russia may drop its insistence on a legally binding treaty, which would need to be ratified by Russia's Federal Assembly, and the parliaments of all NATO states. Western diplomats agreed with Kinkel that there are signs that Moscow may accept a politically binding document endorsed by Government leaders, which does not require parliamentary ratification.
Western diplomats said NATO hopes agreement can be reached with Russia in about three months -- around June. NATO would like it signed before its summit meeting in Madrid in July, when it will issue invitations to possible new members. The countries routinely mentioned are Poland, Hungary and the Czech republic.
Some Western diplomats have suggested the NATO-Russia agreement might be signed at the annual meeting of the world's seven leading industrial nations (Group of Seven - G-7), which this year takes place in the U.S. city of Denver in late June. Russia is not a member of the G-7 Group, but regularly attends its meetings. Some countries, led by Germany, have suggested this could be an appropriate occasion to sign the NATO agreement at a separate ceremony.