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NATO/Russia: Central European Leaders Give Cautious Welcome To Agreement

Prague, 15 May 1997 (RFE/RL) - Central European officials have cautiously welcomed the NATO-Russia accord on relations, but they have also insisted on their sovereign right to decide on membership in the Alliance.

Poland's Foreign Minister Dariusz Rosati yesterday told reporters in Warsaw that "Poland welcomes the agreement...," but it "should not create a second-class membership category, and must in no way provide for delaying the Alliance's expansion." Rosati then added that Poland would seek some form of representation on a new NATO-Russia Council to defend Warsaw's interests.

Rosati echoed Poland's Prime Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz's earlier remarks the it would be "a paradox if a country that is not going to join NATO, such as Russia, may get a stronger position in relation to NATO than applicant countries."

Czech President Vaclav Havel has been urging U.S. officials during the current visit to the United States not to give in to Russia's demands on limiting deployment of NATO military forces and equipment in new member states. Havel told a meeting in New York yesterday that Russia and NATO should "share a good and profound relationship," but the two entities are fundamentally separate.

Petr Necas, chairman of the Czech Parliament's Defense and Security Committee, said yesterday that the NATO-Russia agreement "showed sense and prudence," but it should not place conditions on NATO expansion

Hungary's Prime Minister Gyula Horn is quoted today in a German newspaper as saying that the agreement was "an important development," allowing Russia "to participate in the installation of a new order of security in Europe." Horn said that Hungary expects to join NATO in 1999.

Hungary's Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs yesterday said that he "had no reason to believe NATO had given any concession, which would make difficulties for the countries which want to join."

Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary are widely regarded as leading candidates for NATO membership. The Alliance is expected to issue invitations to first group of applicants during its Madrid summit at the beginning of July.

Among the countries which are not expected to be in the first wave of accession, the Baltic states have been quick to assert their determination to join the Alliance, despite Moscow's continuing opposition.

Estonia's Foreign Ministry said that the NATO-Russia agreement is "positive" in that it is "a step in developing relations." But an anonymous Latvian diplomat was more explicit in saying that, while "the very fact that NATO and Russia are cooperating is long as they do not use Baltic membership as a bargaining chip."

Lithuanian parliamentary chairman Vytautas Landsbergis was quoted by Western news agencies as saying that "as future NATO members, we would like to see the agreement before it is signed."

Romania's President Emil Constantinescu today said that the NATO-Russia agreement "will contribute to the new European security set-up, but he also emphasized that Romania "unconditionally supports" the Alliance's expansion in order to secure "freedom and democracy" in Central Europe. Romania's Foreign Minister Adrian Severin yesterday said he assumed that the agreement "refers only to relations between NATO and Russia, and not to the future of other countries, which must be free to make their own choices."

And Slovakia's Foreign Minister Pavol Hamzik yesterday said, during a visit to Poland, that he was "satisfied" with the agreement, adding that, if Slovakia is not offered NATO membership in Madrid, Bratislava would lobby for access at a later date.

Such caution and ambiguity, so apparent in these statements and declarations by the Central Europeans, seem to have reflected the prevailing uncertainty about the precise letter of the NATO-Russia agreement. Its text has not been released pending approval by Russia and NATO member states.

This uncertainty has been compounded by apparently contradictory statements by Presidents Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin on the accord itself. Each presented different interpretations over particular aspects of the deal, as well as its overriding message.

There is a degree of confusion with regard to the character of the planned NATO-Russia Council, for example. It is not immediately clear what and how matters will be decided there. There is also doubt whether the agreement resolved the crucial issues of stationing NATO troops and equipment, including nuclear weapons, in the territory of new members. And there is a palpable lack of certainty as to the very character of the accord itself, with each sides claiming that it is either formally binding or merely politically appropriate.

This confusion may subside at the time when the agreement is signed by Russia and NATO member states. This is likely to happen on May 27 in Paris.

But it is also possible that, perhaps for the sake of expediency, the two sides have consciously adopted sufficiently general and vague formulas to allow for differing interpretations. This could mean, however, that the acclaimed "Founding Act," as the agreement on future cooperative relations between NATO and Russia was called, will only open new ways for talks and negotiations in the months and years to come.