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Czech Republic/Russia: Prime Ministers Don't Agree On NATO

Prague, 21 April 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and Czech Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus reaffirmed they do not see eye-to-eye on NATO expansion. But both leaders agreed these differences must not stand in the way of good economic relations.

Speaking at a joint news conference after talks today in Prague, Klaus and Chernomyrdin said they clearly understand each others' position on NATO expansion and will continue to disagree. Klaus said by seeking early entry into the alliance, Prague was expressing its "own selfish security interest." Klaus said in any case, his country "has no common border with Russia."

Chernomyrdin said Moscow and Prague had once stood together against NATO as members of the Warsaw Pact. He said Russia knew the alliance and its nuclear potential, and for this reason did not want to see it expand.

But despite these differences, both leaders expressed the desire for better economic ties. Chernomyrdin said Moscow remained Prague's fourth-largest trading partner and he added Czechs and Russian should renew their past cooperation, but base it on economics, not ideology.

Klaus said the Czech government would support increased economic ties with Russia, especially to even out Prague's yearly $1.3 million trade deficit with Moscow. Commenting on the Czech government's recent decision to start buying natural gas from Norway, Chernomyrdin said he believed Russian gas was still "the best deal in Europe." But he said it was up to Prague to make its own decisions.

Klaus and Chernomyrdin also said the issue of oustanding Soviet debts had been resolved by the signing today of an addendum to a 1994 treaty on the matter.