Washington, 8 October 1997 (RFE/RL) - The chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Jesse Helms, says he is concerned the United States and NATO are being too friendly towards Russia in order to gain support for NATO expansion eastwards.
Helms (R-North Carolina) made the statement yesterday at the start of key Committee hearings on NATO enlargement.
He called NATO's partnership with Russia ill-considered and said NATO-Russia relations must be restrained by question marks still hanging over Russia's future. Helms said Russia's future commitment to peace and democracy is still far from certain.
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, the only witness at yesterday's hearing, defended the NATO-Russia Joint Permanent Council which held its first ministerial meeting in New York 11 days ago.
She said it is a useful mechanism to discuss issues of common interest to both sides and that she was very pleased with the New York session.
Albright said the Council does not give Russia a decision-making role in NATO and will not in any way affect NATO strategy or weaken or delay the alliance's decisions.
Questions about Russia dominated the hearing, as well as concerns about the cost of NATO enlargement. That will be the subject of a separate enquiry by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee later this month.