NATO-Russia Pact Lets Alliance Expand: Moscow Wins Voice in Its Decisions

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Russia and NATO yesterday agreed on an accord designed to put aside 45 years of enmity, clearing the way for the alliance to expand to Eastern Europe with Moscow's grudging assent.

The agreement, announced in Moscow by North Atlantic Treaty Organization Secretary-General Javier Solana and Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov, follows months of torturous negotiations aimed at placating Russia's fears of an enlarged alliance threatening its western borders.

Russia will get a formal voice in NATO councils and a pledge that the alliance has no plans to deploy nuclear weapons or station troops in a threatening manner on the territory of former Soviet allies.

The accord is to be signed May 27 at a Paris ceremony attended by President Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin.

But there were different interpretations yesterday of what was agreed to, and several foreign policy analysts questioned whether the Western military alliance went too far in restructuring itself to meet Russia's objections.

Mr. Clinton, in a Rose Garden appearance, called the agreement a "historic step" on the path to ending Europe's divisions.

"Russia will work closely with NATO, but not within NATO, giving Russia a voice in, but not a veto over, NATO's business," the president said.

But Mr. Yeltsin, who faces stiff domestic opposition to NATO expansion, cast the agreement as giving Russia a more robust role.

"Decisions can be taken only by consensus," he said in an interview on Russian television. "If Russia is against some decision, it means this decision will not go through. That is of capital importance."

U.S. officials speaking on the condition of anonymity said the new consultative mechanism, called the NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council, allows Moscow to block any joint activities. But NATO will be free to act on its own and will maintain its "core identity," a senior official said.

Still, John Hillen of the Council on Foreign Relations said: "This is a very good deal for the Russians. They bargained from a consummate position of weakness but came out of the negotiating process as inside players with the Western alliance."

Although the new consultative machinery at alliance headquarters in Brussels denies Russia any veto over NATO decisions, Mr. Hillen said, "it will create the situation where a set of decisions made by NATO members in the morning can be delayed, obfuscated or watered down in the afternoon by the council on which Russia sits."

The 16-nation North Atlantic Treaty Organization plans to invite new members at a July 8-9 summit in Madrid. The most likely candidates are Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic, all of which were allied with Moscow during the Cold War. …