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Russia: Yeltsin In Paris For Tomorrow's Signing Of NATO Accord

Paris, 26 May 1997 (RFE/RL) - Russian President Boris Yeltsin has arrived in Paris before tomorrow's signing of a NATO-Russia accord negotiated to reduce Moscow's concerns over the alliance's planned expansion. Yeltsin is to meet today with French President Jacques Chirac. He will meet tomorrow before the signing with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and later with U.S. President Bill Clinton.

Yeltsin made no comments upon his arrival at Orly airport south of the French capital. But before leaving Moscow earlier today, he said NATO will "fully undermine" its relations with Moscow if takes in any new members from among the former Soviet republics.

Echoing recent comments by other Russian officials, Yeltsin said that through open dialogue with NATO, Russia hopes to convince the alliance that its security would not be increased by such a move.

He said he does not even "allow a thought" that such a dialogue could fail. Yeltsin also repeated Russia's continuing opposition to NATO's expansion eastwards.

At a July summit, NATO is expected to extend invitations to several former Warsaw Pact countries to join the alliance. Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic are considered frontrunners. Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are among other nations pressing for admission.

In Paris today, Yeltsin's spokesman said Russia is to take new initiatives in the Middle East peace process.

Spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky told reporters that Moscow is doing all it can to raise its profile in the region.

Yastrzhembsky did not elaborate on the planned initiative. Russia is a co-sponsor of the peace process with the United States.

Yeltsin has received both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in recent months but without any apparent result.

The peace process has been in crisis since Israel sent bulldozers to start a new Jewish settlement in Arab East Jerusalem on March 18.

Yastrzhembsky also said Russia wants to develop military exchanges with Middle East countries but without upsetting the region's military balance. Asked about possible missile sales to Syria, he said this could upset the balance and such sales are not on the negotiating table.