French president Jacques Chirac yesterday expressed his confidence that NATO and Russia could reach an agreement on NATO enlargement, possibly prior to the Western alliance’s upcoming July summit in Madrid. Chirac made his remarks to reporters following a three-hour meeting with Russian president Boris Yeltsin at Yeltsin’s Novo-Ogarevo country residence outside of Moscow. The meeting was Yeltsin’s first with a Western leader since German chancellor Helmut Kohl traveled to Moscow on January 4, shortly after which Yeltsin was hospitalized with pneumonia. Chirac claimed to be impressed by the speed of Yeltsin’s recovery from that illness, and said that he had found the Russian president to be "extraordinarily well-informed about all the problems of the world" and "very tough in the defense of Russia’s interests." Chirac was quoted as saying that if NATO and Russia showed flexibility and mutual respect in the run-up to the Madrid Summit, a political agreement could be reached between the two sides before July. He also said that France had no strong feelings on whether that agreement should take the form of a legally binding charter or an informal declaration. Moscow has insisted on the former. (Reuter, February 2)
Chirac’s remarks notwithstanding, the talks were attended by only a handful of advisors and little was revealed of their content. Yeltsin did not address the press afterward, but his press spokesman, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, suggested that the Russian president had been "highly satisfied" with their results and that France and Russia had reached common ground on a number of issues. Indeed, Moscow has looked to exploit differences between NATO members on the question of enlargement, and the Kremlin has watched with particular interest clashes between the U.S. and France over internal NATO reform and other issues related to expansion. In their public statements, French leaders have also been among the most sympathetic toward Russia’s discomfort with NATO’s plans. (Interfax, AP, Reuter, February 2)
Chirac conferred with U.S. president Bill Clinton by telephone on January 30, prior to his departure for Moscow. Like Chirac, German chancellor Helmut Kohl had also spoken confidently of Russia and NATO coming to an agreement on enlargement following his own January 4 visit to Moscow. (See Monitor, January 6)
… As Russian Leaders Continue Their Hard-Line Rhetoric.