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Britain/Russia: Foreign Ministers Discuss Stability Pact For Balkans

The foreign ministers of Russia and Britain, Igor Ivanov and Robin Cook, held talks in London this week that focused, among other things, on how to improve stability in the countries of southeastern Europe. Ivanov flew back to Moscow last night after a two-day visit that was seen as an opportunity by both sides to heal the rifts opened over NATO's air campaign against Yugoslavia. Our London correspondent, Ben Partridge, reports ...

London, 23 July 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Ivanov's visit had originally been scheduled for May but was called off after Moscow angrily opposed the NATO bombing campaign of Yugoslavia, insisting it was in defiance of U.N. authority.

Ivanov told reporters that Moscow believes reforms are needed in the U.N. Security Council to prevent further abuses. Ivanov:

"We understand that the Security Council of the U.N. needs to be reformed and on that question, we are going to carry out a constructive dialogue so that organization will completely comply with the realities of today's world."

Cook was at pains yesterday in London to mend fences with Moscow, saying he regarded the Ivanov visit as a "step-change" in relations. He said Britain wants "a stronger relationship for the new millennium" with Russia. He promised British support for the rescheduling of Russian debts and closer cooperation on global issues.

Cook also thanked Moscow for what he called its "active engagement" in the G-7 plus Russia negotiations, which brought the Kosovo crisis to what he called its "successful conclusion." This was in reference to Russia's role in persuading Belgrade to agree to a peace settlement over Kosovo.

Cook told a joint news conference in London that he and Ivanov discussed the reconstruction of Kosovo, as well as how to implement a proposed stability pact for southeastern Europe. Cook:

"What is important is that as we tackle the reconstruction of Kosovo, we should make sure we do everything possible to promote stability throughout the region. Having found a solution to this conflict, it is equally important we invest in making sure that we prevent future conflicts. That is the vital and strategic importance of a stability pact, which gives us an opportunity to improve the stability, the security and the prosperity of southeastern Europe."

The stability pact aims to initiate a dialogue among the Balkan nations, as well as between them and the international community, on mutual security, economic reform and democratization. It reflects a recognition -- which took hold during the Kosovo crisis -- that further Balkan instability could affect the rest of Europe.

The dialogue is expected to include Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania, Macedonia and Slovenia.

Cook told the news conference that he and Ivanov have agreed to consult by telephone next week to coordinate their positions ahead of an international summit in Sarajevo to launch the stability pact. Cook:

"We are both quite clear that the stability pact must have real substance and content that would provide objectives and perspectives for countries of the region, in ways in which they can see their trade increase, their security strengthened and their freedoms underlined."

As a member of the so-called "G-7 plus Russia" group of leading industrial democracies, Moscow is closely involved in plans for Kosovo's reconstruction. But it is at odds with the U.S. and Britain over their insistence that there should be no reconstruction aid to Serbia while Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic remains in power.

Ivanov told the news conference the international community faces a moral responsibility to assist Yugoslavia to ensure that its people do not face "a humanitarian catastrophe" this winter.

He said 50 percent of the Yugoslav economy has now been destroyed, but he also acknowledged that it is the right of every sovereign state to "decide who and who not to assist."