Washington, 19 March 1997 (RFE/RL) - U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright set the tone for the forthcoming U.S.-Russian summit in Helsinki this week, declaring that Russia is America's friend and that the two countries have a mature relationship which can survive disagreements.
She said at a White House Press conference Tuesday that Russia and the United States now have "a mature friendship based on common interests and characterized by honesty on matters where we disagree."
Albright acknowledged that three days of talks over the weekend with Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov had not softened Russia's opposition to NATO expansion and she was forthright about the summit prospects.
Albright said Russia's consent to NATO enlargement is "unnecessary and it certainly will not happen in Helsinki," adding "we know it will take time for the progress of trust to catch up with the progress of change."
But she said the summit was important and valued in itself as an opportunity for presidents Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin to talk in what she called "a vibrant and robust process" about a new Europe, a new NATO and hopefully a new Russia.
Albright said Clinton will stress in the summit talks that begin Thursday night that the United States and Russia are now looking at "an entirely new historic situation in Europe," and that "NATO faces no enemy to its East and Russia faces no enemy to its West."
"Russia is not our enemy, Russia is our friend," Albright said, adding that the United States wants to cooperate with Russia and that both sides recognize they have a common interest in such cooperation.
She stressed that a key element in America's vision of European security is full Russian participation and that this can be achieved through a NATO-Russia charter.
Clinton will outline in Helsinki the possibilities for a partnership between Russia and NATO and reaffirm NATO's commitment not to deploy nuclear weapons or station foreign troops closer to Russia on the territory of new members, Albright said.
On Russia's other demands to limit NATO enlargement, Albright was comfortingly adamant, saying there are certain lines the United States will not cross and that the expansion process will remain on track.
She said Clinton "will not bargain away the rights of the Central Europeans (in Helsinki)," declaring that "neither justice nor history will allow that."
She reiterated the standing U.S. position that has been called into question in recent weeks by apprehensive Central Europeans as well as domestic critics of Clinton's administration.
Albright said forcefully that new NATO allies will enjoy the full benefits and bear the full responsibilities of membership and that other countries will follow those states invited to join the alliance at a NATO summit in Madrid in July.
As she put it "the first new members will not be the last," and "no European democracy will be excluded from consideration" for NATO membership.
Albright also stressed that the NATO-Russia charter the U.S. is helping to negotiate is not being offered as a bargaining chip in return for Russia's acquiescence to NATO expansion.
She said the charter is an independent component of Europe's new security structure and that in Helsinki "the only steps we will propose to Russia are those we would want to take whether NATO was enlarging or not because they are worthwhile in their own right."
Albright said the United States would like to see Russian agreement to the charter within a few months but stressed "there is no deadline, not in Helsinki or in Madrid -- the door will stay open."
She pointed out that with the end of ther Cold War there was no longer a need to choose between diminishing NATO or diminishing Russia. "It is not 1949 or 1989 (the effective start and end of the Cold War) -- today we are all on the same side," Albright said.
She repeated a call for "new thinking" in Moscow, recalling a conversation with Yeltsin in Moscow last month, in which he kept saying "you have to see a new Russia." Albright said she responded "you need to see a new NATO."
U.S. National Security Adviser Sandy Berger who appeared with Albright at the press conference, said Clinton keeps telling the American people that there is a new Russia and "what President Yeltsin must say equally vigorously to the Russian people is that there's a new NATO, there's a new day, and we are designing new institutions to deal with that fact."
Berger said the question for Russia is: "Will it define its future greatness in terms of the enhancement of the life of its people and a normal relationship with its neighbors, or will it define its greatness in old classic terms which are increasingly irrelevant?"