Washington, 24 April 1997 (RFE/RL) - U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has taken a tough, uncompromising tone on Russia's conditions for a charter with NATO.
In testimony before the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee Wednesday, Albright said the U.S. and NATO allies will not yield to Russian demands for a ban on new military installations on the territories of new NATO members, and on deploying nuclear weapons there.
She said: "Russia would like us to make absolute commitments about the deployment of nuclear and conventional forces on the territories of new members. But we will not compromise on this issue."
Albright said she would fly to Moscow next week to discuss the charter with Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov.
Asked about the status of NATO negotiations with Russia on the Charter, she said some issues are still unresolved. "We are in the process of negotiating the elements of the Russia-NATO charter...at this stage it is not ready," Albright said.
President Boris Yeltsin said recently that Russia is prepared to sign the charter and that the ceremony would be held in Paris on May 27.
But U.S. officials have said the date is uncertain. Albright added at the hearing that NATO would like the document to be ready by that date and if it was, the U.S. would certainly be present in Paris.
The U.S. and NATO are willing to give Russia non-binding assurances, and Albright said that in Moscow she would restate existing NATO policy that in the current security environment NATO has no need and no intention of stationing nuclear arms in new member states.
Albright addressed the Senate Committee in a rare joint appearance with Defense Secretary William Cohen to urge Senate support for NATO enlargement.
She said Wednesday's hearing launches "one of the historic debates of our time" on new structures for the 21st century.
Cohen said NATO's enemy now is not the former Soviet Union. He said "the enemy today is instability.in countries like Albania and Bosnia, where you have ethnic rivalries, where you have religious confrontations, where you have desperate poverty, where you have centralized controlled economies."
Both Cohen and Albright emphasized that stability in Europe is of vital national interest to the United States.
Albright said Central Europe is so important that the U.S. might be willing to fight for the region even without expanding NATO.
She said "if there were a major threat to the peace and security of the region, it is already likely that we would decide to act, whether NATO enlarges or not."
Some Senators on the committee questioned whether the addition of new members would weaken the western military alliance.
Cohen said NATO is not creating separate standards for new Central European members and that they will be expected to make the same contributions eventually as current members.
He said General John Shalikashvili, Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, and his NATO counterparts have begun this week to evaluate country analyses prepared by NATO military experts on the fitness of each potential new member to join NATO.
Cohen said studies were done on each of the twelve countries that have formally expressed interest in joining the alliance.