Publication: Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 108

NATO leaders emerged from a meeting with Russian foreign minister Yevgeny Primakov yesterday impressed by the cordiality of the talks but divided over whether Russia had really softened its position on NATO enlargement. According to German foreign minister Klaus Kinkel, Primakov had said that Russia "had no basic objections" to the desire of Eastern European countries to join NATO. But the Russian foreign minister also reportedly reiterated Moscow’s categorical opposition to the extension of NATO’s military infrastructure to Russia’s borders. He later defined this infrastructure as NATO military command, communications, and reconnaissance, among other things.

U.S., German, and French ministers were said to have interpreted Primakov’s remarks as merely a more amicable restatement of past Russian positions. NATO secretary-general Javier Solana described the meeting with Primakov as "very friendly, very constructive," but also suggested that any new grounds for optimism lay in the improved atmosphere rather than in significant changes in Russia’s policies. Less than two weeks before Russia’s presidential election, it seemed that neither side wanted to strike any sparks in Berlin over the enlargement issue. (Reuter & Itar-Tass, June 4)

Referring back to a landmark NATO decision of the previous day, Primakov did publicly praise the alliance for its ability to adapt to "new realities." Those realities, he said, include the transition from a bi-polar to a multi-polar world, and a shift of emphasis from global threats to the prevention of regional conflicts. Of equal interest, Primakov suggested in comments to the Russian press that it was actually NATO which had softened its position during yesterday’s talks. He was reportedly gratified to hear from some Western ministers not categorical assertions of the inevitability of NATO enlargement, but a willingness to discuss with Russia all issues related to that policy. (Itar-Tass, June 4)

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