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NATO: Allies Await Russian Response To Cooperation Proposal

A NATO official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said today the alliance is waiting for a Russian response to a detailed proposal for closer cooperation. He categorically rejected recent press reports about a possible link between cooperation with Russia and NATO enlargement.

Brussels, 27 February 2002 (RFE/RL) -- A NATO source who asked not to be named says the alliance has put forward a preliminary proposal on how to develop closer ties with Moscow.

The source says NATO's assistant secretary-general on political affairs, Guenter Altenburg, is ready to travel to Moscow as soon as Russia indicates it will negotiate on the proposal. The official says NATO's proposal takes account of earlier communications on the issue received from Moscow by the alliance.

The NATO official says the offer follows recommendations made in Brussels last December by NATO foreign ministers. Acting on a proposal tabled by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, NATO ministers then agreed to look into setting up a new NATO-Russia council by their next meeting in Reykjavik (14-15 May).

The NATO source says the current "fleshed-out" proposal "contains all the elements" needed for a comprehensive agreement satisfying both Russia and the 19 NATO member countries. Acceptance by Russia would mean the two sides could move on to discussing the finer details of the deal, he added.

The eventual deal is widely assumed to entail the setting up of a new Russia-NATO council in a so-called "at 20" format. The new body would bring Russia face-to-face with the 19 individual NATO members, replacing the current NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council in which Russia is forced to engage with NATO as a whole.

The NATO source says that the regular Permanent Joint Council meeting scheduled for this afternoon in Brussels would not discuss the deal, adding that NATO prefers direct, higher-level contacts. The official said the new NATO-Russia council would deal with a list of some dozen shared concerns, many outlined already in December. He said the new forum would remain completely separate from NATO's decision-making North Atlantic Council. This means Russia would not acquire a veto over NATO affairs.

The official also categorically denied any links between NATO-Russian cooperation and enlargement of the alliance. He said, "NATO will proceed with enlargement regardless of Russia, and will cooperate with Russia regardless of enlargement." The official added that today NATO had forced the "International Herald Tribune" newspaper to retract a suggestion made earlier this week on the front page of the paper that the alliance is working on a "package deal" tying the two issues together.