Russia Signs Historic Pact with NATO `Partnership for Peace' Promises Close Ties with Old Cold War Foe

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The principal enemies of the Cold War - Russia and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization - pledged themselves Wednesday to "a far-reaching cooperative relationship" in defense and security matters.

The vows came as Russia joined NATO's "Partnership for Peace" program.

When Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev signed the program's framework document at an official ceremony, Sergio Balanzino, NATO's deputy secretary-general, said, "This is a defining moment in shaping the security of our continent.

"We must not repeat the mistakes of Europe's past. Our main objective remains a new Euro-Atlantic order of security with the active participation of Russia."

In Washington, President Bill Clinton also hailed the signing, saying, "Today Russia took an important step to help shape a safer and more peaceful post-Cold War world."

Russia's decision to join the Partnership for Peace program commits Russia to work closely with NATO in key military areas, including planning, training and exercises for possible joint peacekeeping missions.

Russia and NATO also issued a statement after the signing ceremony, stating that they had agreed to pursue "a broad, enhanced dialogue," with political consultations and information-sharing on important political-security matters.

Such a written statement was seen as a significant concession to Russia, which had fought hard to get special status from NATO - something the Russians believed essential for the biggest, most powerful country to emerge from the former Soviet Empire and the nation expected to become the sole custodian of the Soviet nuclear deterrent.

In the course of the partnership negotiations, Russia initially sought a direct voice in NATO decision-making. When that push was rejected, Russia called for a formal consultative role before finally settling for the looser formula of "political consultations, as appropriate, on issues of common concern."

Kozyrev's trip to NATO headquarters in Brussels took place just two weeks after Russia entered a cooperative agreement with the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, a group of 24 rich Western countries.

It also happened on the eve of Russian President Boris Yeltsin's scheduled signing of an important economic and political accord with the 12-nation European Union. …