Russian president Boris Yeltsin told a news conference in Germany yesterday that he will travel to Paris for a May 27 signing of the NATO-Russian political agreement still being drafted by the two sides. "We have to hurry," Yeltsin said in reference to the negotiations. His remarks followed four hours of talks yesterday with Chancellor Helmut Kohl in the German city of Baden-Baden. Kohl himself seemed more circumspect on the likelihood of the agreement being ready by May 27, but did express confidence that with "good will on both sides" the signing might occur before NATO’s July 8-9 summit in Madrid.
As was the case at the March 20-21 Russian-U.S. summit in Helsinki, Yeltsin’s optimistic public comments on the possibility of NATO and Russia coming to terms was something of a surprise. In recent days a sharper edge had crept back into statements out of Moscow about relations with NATO, and an April 15 meeting between Russian foreign minister Yevgeny Primakov and NATO secretary general Javier Solana produced little evidence of progress in the negotiations on a political agreement.
Moreover, Yeltsin’s increasingly influential spokesman, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, spoke harshly of NATO in remarks to reporters on April 16, suggesting that the signing of an agreement was by no means a sure bet and reprising Moscow’s contention that NATO enlargement is the "West’s biggest historic mistake since the end of the Cold War." In what appeared to be a step back from points agreed upon at the Helsinki meeting, Yastrzhembsky also said that the agreement would be meaningless for Moscow unless it contains "binding and concrete terms on military issues." Moscow has repeatedly made clear its desire that no additional nuclear or conventional weaponry be deployed in new NATO member states, and NATO leaders have been equally insistent of late that the alliance will not relegate new members to this sort of second class status.
The two leaders also appeared to make little progress on the second major issue on their agenda: the return by Russia of German "trophy art." In a symbolic gesture, Yeltsin turned over 11 files from the archives of Walter Rathenau, the German foreign minister who negotiated the 1922 treaty with the Soviet Union, along with some microfilmed archives from East Germany and what Yeltsin said was an inventory of art objects believed to have been transported back to the Soviet Union at the end of World War II. Yeltsin also reportedly told Kohl that he would appeal to Russia’s Constitutional Court if the country’s upper house of parliament approves a lower house law that would declare the trophy art Russia’s national property. But the only practical step taken on the issue appeared to be a decision by the two men to send experts to a meeting soon on the restitution issue. (AP, Reuter, Itar-Tass, Interfax, April 17)
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