Maneuvering over the related issues of NATO enlargement and NATO-Russian relations has continued on several fronts in recent days, as NATO secretary general Javier Solana held talks in Moscow on March 9 and preparations accelerated for the March 19-20 U.S.-Russian summit in Helsinki. The talks between Solana and Russian foreign minister Yevgeny Primakov were the third round of formal consultations between the two men this year. Little information was released to the public following each of their first two meetings, and that practice continued after the latest talks. A brief NATO press statement said only that the talks had proceeded "positively" and that the sides would continue trying to bring their positions closer. A Russian Foreign Ministry statement said that "constructive work" had been done during the meeting, but that "differences of opinion remain on a number of issues." NATO assistant secretary general Gebhardt von Moltke remained in Moscow for a second day of talks yesterday with his Russian counterpart, Deputy Foreign Minister Nikolai Afanasievsky. Solana departed for a tour of the Central Asian states. (Reuter, Itar-Tass, Interfax, March 10)
The Solana-Primakov meeting came amid cautious but nevertheless positive signals from both sides that the conclusion of a Russian-NATO political agreement — which would also ease the way toward the admission of new NATO members — could be reached before the Western alliance’s July summit in Madrid. Early last week Solana said in London that, while he did not want to minimize remaining differences, he believed that the Russians "are interested in partnership and that we will conclude" a political agreement. (Reuter, March 7) And, despite another public display of intransigence in Boris Yeltsin’s March 6 State of the Union address to parliament (see Monitor, March 7), Primakov himself was quoted that same day as saying that he expected the negotiations with NATO to reach a positive conclusion. (Interfax, March 6)
Meanwhile, senior aides to Primakov and Solana labored in Moscow last week to harmonize two draft texts — one Russian and one drawn up by NATO — in the hope that the two men would emerge from their latest meeting with a single document that mapped out at least the main contours of a new post-Cold War agreement. (Reuter, March 7) Whether that did in fact occur remains unclear.
In other activities related to the enlargement issue, U.S. deputy secretary of state Strobe Talbott and Defense Secretary William Cohen traveled to Brussels last week for additional consultations with NATO officials. Talbott’s visit was a brief one before he continued on to Moscow for talks with Russian leaders. Cohen, who was making his first visit to NATO headquarters, said that the West would work to allay Russia’s concerns about enlargement. But he emphasized the alliance’s intention to move forward with its expansion plans regardless of Moscow’s opposition, and said that prospective NATO member states should not have to worry overmuch about offending the Russians. Cohen also argued that the $25-$35 billion estimated by the Clinton Administration to be the price tag for enlargement is not only a manageable amount, but that, ultimately, it could save money for new NATO countries who would otherwise have to construct national defense structures entirely with their own resources. (AP, March 7)
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