Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 97

Less than 24 hours after NATO and Russia had successfully concluded negotiations on an historical political agreement, squabbling broke out yesterday over Russian president Boris Yeltsin’s interpretation of the document. A series of statements made by Yeltsin during a May 14 television interview were at the center of the controversy. The Russian leader vaguely suggested that the 16-page document — called the NATO-Russia Founding Act — contained "binding" commitments by NATO not to deploy military forces or nuclear arms in newly admitted member states, and not to use military facilities abandoned by the Warsaw Pact. Of perhaps greater import, Yeltsin also claimed that decisions taken in the NATO-Russia permanent joint council — the creation of which is also included in the political agreement — are to be by consensus. Such a practice would effectively give Russia a veto power over NATO actions, including the admission of new members. (Russian TV, May 14)

Clinton Administration officials immediately rejected Yeltsin’s interpretation of the NATO-Russia agreement. The U.S. president said that "Russia will work closely with NATO but not in NATO, giving Russia a voice but not a veto over NATO’s business." A senior aide to Clinton, moreover, told reporters that NATO forces would be free to conduct large-scale exercises in the areas close to Russia, and that NATO members — including former Warsaw Pact states — would not be constrained from conducting military actions even if Russia objects in the joint council. The same message came from U.S. secretary of state Madeleine Albright, who said during a U.S. public television interview that NATO would indeed be able to use military bases abandoned by the Warsaw Pact forces. German foreign minister Klaus Kinkel was, if anything, more direct. He said that "Russia will not take part" in decisions concerning the admission of new members to NATO and added that the Russian president had wrongly interpreted the agreement between Russia and NATO. (AP, Reuter, Xinhua, May 15)

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