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Russia: Yeltsin Calls For 'Greater Europe' Without Divisions

Strasbourg, 10 October 1997 (RFE/RL) - Russian President Boris Yeltsin today called for a "Greater Europe" without divisions in which no single state would impose its will on others and there would be equality among both large and small nations.

Speaking at the Council of Europe summit meeting in Strasbourg, Yeltsin indicated -- without actually saying so -- that the Greater Europe he envisioned would correspond geographically to the Council's jurisdiction today. The organization has 24 members from Western Europe and 16, including Russia, from Central and Eastern Europe.

Yeltsin said that Russia would honor all the commitments it made to the Council when it became a member 20 months ago. He said that included ending all executions under the death penalty -- on which, he said, Russia had already put a moratorium.

Yeltsin said he was aware of strong reaction in the West to recent public executions in the republic of Chechnya. He said Russia would do all it could to end what he called "this medieval practice."

Also at today's summit, Yeltsin and French President Jacques Chirac announced that Russia will seek to observe the spirit of an international treaty banning landmines that was negotiated last month in Oslo. The accord is due to be signed soon in Ottawa, Canada.

They also said they had agreed in principle with German Chancellor Helmut Kohl to hold formal summit meetings among the three leaders once a year.

Speaking to television cameras at the Council of Europe's summit meeting, Yeltsin said Russia would do all it could to observe the landmine treaty's spirit, even though it could not yet observe all its provisions to the letter.

Yeltsin said that he was making the announcement in what he called "the absence of a great power" -- a clear reference to the United States, which has said it will not sign the landmine treaty. The U.S. government has said it has reservations about the treaty, especially as it is related to the two Koreas.

Chirac said he understood that Russia could yet sign the landmine treaty, but welcomed Yeltsin's gesture today as a step in the right direction.

Earlier today, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl hailed the Council of Europe's "enormous contribution" to the integration of the entire European continent.

He said that the Council's expansion to Central and Eastern Europe had constituted a huge step forward toward making the continent whole.

Since 1990, the organization has granted membership to 16 reforming nations in the area.

Kohl spoke at the outset of the Council's two-day summit meeting in Strasbourg, which began this morning. Leaders of 44 states belonging to or associated with the Council are attending the meeting.

Speaking later, British Prime Minister also praised the Council for the role it has played in what he called Europe's "astonishing transformation" in the past several years.

Blair said membership in the Council now constituted the final certification of a country's democratic reforms. He said he was sure the summit would give the Council the means to respond to new challenges ahead.