Russian and U.S. negotiators expressed reserved optimism on May 2 after a second and unplanned series of talks between U.S. secretary of state Madeleine Albright and Russian foreign minister Yevgeny Primakov in Moscow apparently yielded some progress in the stalled talks on a Russia-NATO charter agreement. The May 2 reports were unexpected, given that talks a day earlier between the two sides had apparently failed to resolve several key disagreements, and no additional talks had been planned. U.S. State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns described the outcome of the May 2 talks as "needed progress," and said that it was "desirable, possible, but not certain" that the two sides might now resolve their differences on the proposed charter agreement in time for it to be signed on May 27 in Paris.
A breakthrough of sorts apparently happened during dinner on the evening of May 1, when Primakov and Albright chose to continue discussing NATO issues rather than turning, as planned, to talks on China, the Middle East, and other areas. That development triggered a hectic two-hour series of meetings the next day during which it was proposed that the charter would include a freeze on troop levels and conventional weapons in six Central European countries, including Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary — expected to be offered NATO membership this summer — along with Slovakia, Belarus, and Ukraine. NATO, in turn, apparently won an abandonment of Moscow’s demand for an overall freeze on NATO weapons and troops, a development that would afford the Central European states greater flexibility on troops and weapons and could open the door to the deployment of NATO forces nearer to Russia’s borders. (AP, Reuter, May 2)
The real import of the Primakov-Albright talks, details of which remain sketchy, will be easier to assess after tomorrow’s meeting in Luxembourg between Primakov and NATO secretary general Javier Solana.
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