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Russia/U.S.: Yeltsin Considers NATO Expansion Most Serious Dispute Since 1962

Moscow, 8 May 1997 (RFE/RL) - Russia's President Boris Yeltsin today said that a planned eastward expansion of NATO was the most serious dispute between Russia and the United States since the 1962 Cuban Missile crisis. But he added that an agreement on a document defining relations between Russia and NATO was nearly ready and that he hoped it would be finalized at the next round of Russia-NATO talks in Moscow on May 13.

Yeltsin's remarks, made after a ceremony commemorating Victory Day in World War II, were broadcast on Russian television.

Yeltsin also said that Russia wants to take part in all of NATO's decision making and insists on a NATO pledge not to deploy weapons, "especially nuclear," on the territory of new members.

Yeltsin said that even if signed, an agreement with NATO will "substantially reduce, but not fully remove" a threat to Russia's national security. The Kremlin has expressed its readiness to sign an agreement with NATO on May 27 in Paris.

Speaking at a wreath-laying ceremony marking the anniversary of the end of World War II, Yeltsin said that the document defining relations between Russia and NATO is "98 percent ready" but that two main issues remained unsolved. He did not identify the two issues. Yeltsin said the final text of the document should be agreed upon at the next round of talks between Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov and NATO's Secretary General Javier Solana on May 13 in Moscow.

Yeltsin once again reiterated that Russia remains opposed to NATO's planned expansion to the east. Touching upon the possibility of former Sovier republics joining the alliance, Yeltsin said: "We do not accept such an approach."

Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky said Yeltsin met today with Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov, who briefed him on results of his latest talks with NATO's Secretary General Javier Solana. After they met earlier this week in Luxembourg, Primakov and Solana said "some progress" had been made toward an agreement on a Russia-NATO charter.