Peace in our children's time

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The Independent Online
Playing to the crowd, as always, Boris Yeltsin flamboyantly flourished a pen, keeping the world waiting just a few more moments, before grinning broadly and signing on the dotted line.

The long-awaited Nato-Russia security pact, cumbersomely called the Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Co-operation and Security, was finalised at last. Seven years after Nato "stretched out the hand of friendship" to its Warsaw Pact enemy at a ceremony in London's Lancaster House, the Western alliance yesterday offered Mr Yeltsin permanent partnership and a strategic relationship.

As the Yeltsin pen was raised once more, to sign the treaty that puts a formal seal on the end of the Cold War and creates the possibility of a security pact spanning the entire northern hemisphere from Vancouver to Vladivostok, Jacques Chirac, the French President, started to clap quietly. One by one the line-up of 16 Nato leaders followed suit and a ripple of applause swept through the Elysee's Salles des Fetes.

Even Tony Blair and Bill Clinton stopped their boyish gossiping for a moment to look up and pay tribute to what was possibly the most significant turning point yet in Nato-Russian relations.

In the Cour d'Honneur outside, red plumes flicked in the breeze on the helmets of the French President's Republican guard - the only uniforms on show on this day of "partnership and peace".

Mr Yeltsin was once again looking around for cameras which nearly smashed the Elysee chandeliers as they swung round for this next photo opportunity: the moment when Mr Yeltsin and Xavier Solana, the Nato Secretary-General, sealed their new pact with a kiss.

It had been, from the start, one of those kissing, hugging, patting, days.

Anxieties were, of course, in the air. Mr Chirac had to try to put the French elections to the back of his mind. Mr Yeltsin caused a minor flurry of concern in Nato high command by making a surprise announcement about nuclear warheads, which nobody seemed to understand. And the question of whether Russia would "follow up" the new pact was already being hotly debated in the corridors.

In the end, however, no worries were allowed to taint this latest "new dawn".

For Mr Blair, in his first outing onto the world stage, the love-in with Mr Yeltsin began with a private breakfast at the Russian residence. Over blinis and smoked salmon, Mr Yeltsin flattered the new Prime Minister, telling him he had "good eyes, the right mind, the right age and good experience". In fact, added Mr Yeltsin: "I believe Great Britain is in the right hands." Mr Blair accepted his invitation to visit Moscow later this year when a joint declaration on fighting international crime will be signed.

And the Foreign Office announced that as part of the new spirit of goodwill, a British drugs liaison officer will be attached to the Moscow embassy from next month.

At the Elysee, Mr Clinton, leaning on a stick, and Mr Yeltsin, looking frail, took their seats for the speeches. "I will be candid with you, reaching agreement has not been easy," said Mr Yeltsin. But, he said, the partnership "is a victory for reason".

Mr Chirac declared the deal was "built on the ruins of World War Two - from now on we can banish old reflexes and help develop mutual trust." Helmut Kohl, the German Chancellor, said that never again must the "pursuit of prestige by nation states be allowed to bring about war".

The British Prime Minister struck a more personal note. "My father fought in the last great European war. I was a child of the Cold War era, raised amid the constant fear of conflict ... no such fear exists today". It was Mr Blair and Mr Clinton who featured most prominently in the final photo opportunity as the President gave the British Prime Minister an enthusiastic thumbs-up.

Mr Clinton's triumphal day was marred by news from Washington, where the Supreme Court gave the go-ahead to a court case brought by Paula Jones, a former state employee in the President's home state of Arkansas, who has made sexual harassment allegations against Mr Clinton. The possibility that a President could face sex charges threatened to overshadow a trip from which he had been expected to emerge as world statesman par excellence.

Presidency at risk, page 2

Cold War spymaster escapes jail, page 12

New detente, page 14

Ours is the first generation able to contemplate the possibility that we may live our entire lives without going to war or sending our children to war.

Tony Blair

This NATO will work with Russia, not against it ... these are new times. ... The veil of hostility between East and West is lifted.

Bill Clinton

Everything that is aimed at countries present here, all of those weapons, are going to have their warheads removed.

Boris Yeltsin