The NATO enlargement issue continued to grab headlines yesterday, as U.S. secretary of state Madeleine Albright held talks in Brussels while German foreign minister Klaus Kinkel consulted with Russian leaders in Moscow. In an address to NATO foreign ministers, Albright unveiled a new proposal for a NATO-Russian joint military brigade, which will be modeled loosely on the alliance’s cooperation efforts with Russia in Bosnia. Neither she nor NATO secretary general Javier Solana were willing to provide any details on the proposal, but the brigade would apparently operate primarily as a peacekeeping force, and its creation would be aimed as assuaging Russian opposition to enlargement. Indeed, Albright sounded a conciliatory note on that subject when she said that "We will be steadfast in offering to Russia our respect, our friendship, and an appropriate partnership… We cannot realize our shared vision of a united, secure, and democratic Europe without Russia." But, keeping to the verbal game of cat-and-mouse that has developed over the contentious issue, she also reiterated that Moscow cannot block expansion: "Russia will have a voice, but Russia will not have a veto," she said.
Albright also called for a meeting this spring of NATO members and prospective members, but it was unclear whether that proposal was related to a French idea for a 5-power NATO-Russian summit in April. And, in what would appear to signal a possible acceleration of NATO’s plans for admitting new members, Albright said that the alliance should pursue the goal of completing "membership negotiations by the end of this year, so that we can sign accession instruments at our meeting in December." This timetable, Albright said, would provide the parliaments of NATO countries with plenty of time to ratify the admissions. (AP, Reuter, February 18; The Washington Post, February 19))
In Moscow, meanwhile, Russian leaders continued to emphasize both their unrelenting opposition to NATO’s enlargement and their willingness, nevertheless, to conduct negotiations on the issue aimed at satisfying Russia’s security concerns. But Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov, following his talks with Kinkel, and Russian deputy foreign minister Ivan Ivanov, in a press interview, emphasized again Moscow’s insistence that any such agreement be legally binding. Ivanov’s remarks nevertheless seemed noteworthy for their pragmatic tone. He suggested that NATO and Russia could build upon their cooperation in Bosnia and that the two sides are quite capable of negotiating a binding political agreement. He suggested that Moscow would demand a "mechanism for consultations… in which Russia and NATO would have equal rights" on certain fundamental European security decisions. (Itar-Tass, Interfax, February 18) That formulation touches on the question of NATO voting rights for Moscow, but may be vague enough to leave the two sides some room for diplomatic maneuver. The architecture of future Russian-NATO consultations are sure to be a key point in discussions between Albright and Russian leaders in Moscow tomorrow and Friday, and between Primakov and Solana in Brussels on Sunday.
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