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Russia: NATO Relations 'Full Of Future Promise'

Brussels, 3 December 1997 (RFE/RL) - Today's NATO Defense Ministers' meeting with Russia's Defense Minister Marshall Igor Sergeyev has been described by NATO officials as "very good," and "full of future promise." But NATO did reject some Russian suggestions.

NATO officials tell RFE/RL they expect to learn more tomorrow about President Boris Yeltsin's disarmament proposals, when they meet at NATO headquarters with Chief-of-Staff of Russia's Armed Forces, General Anatoly Kvashnin.

U.S. Under-Secretary of Defense, Walter Slocombe, characterized the NATO-Russia meeting today as very cordial, saying it dealt with real issues, including some controversial ones. One of these was a suggestion, apparently raised by Marshall Sergeyev, that regular meetings of the NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council should allow Russia to have some role in the formation of NATO policy. Slocombe said such meetings are to discuss cooperation, and promoting transparency and trust - but, NATO will not accept discussion of such matters as Alliance force goals, or NATO expansion.

Other NATO officials tell RFE/RL that Sergeyev's expression of concern about "Partnership for Peace" exercises near Russia's borders were met with a firm, but polite response that Russia is nearly always invited to such exercises, or, at least, to send observers.

Defense Under-Secretary Slocombe also commented on President Yeltsin's disarmament announcements in Stockholm this week. Slocombe said it is already more or less agreed that further reducing nuclear arms will be part of the basis for expected negotiations on a Start-Three Treaty. Yeltsin's separate suggestion that Russia will reduce naval and ground forces in the Baltic region by 40 percent was welcomed by NATO officials. One official told RFE/RL that the reform of Russia's military should be seen as an important opportunity for NATO to help shape the new forces, so as to promote further cooperation in peace-keeping and other joint operations.

NATO will continue consultations with Russia on a post-SFOR force in Bosnia. But Sergeyev today said Russia is prepared to continue to participate in such a NATO-led, peace-keeping force. Consultations will also continue with the more than 30 other countries that contribute forces.

Bosnia was one of the main topics in Brussels today at a meeting of the new Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (the Council is comprised of 44 states: 16 NATO allies and 28 other, mostly Eastern states). Points raised included proposals by the U.S. and Sweden for a joint study of environmental aspects of security problems, suggestions from Bulgaria and Turkey for the Partnership Council to focus on anti-terrorism, and a suggestion from the NATO headquarters staff that the group should look into what responses can be made to the danger of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

A NATO official tells RFE/RL that there was a lot of interest among participants on ideas for protecting both troops and civilians, especially from chemical and biological weapons.