Russia and Nato to share missile defences

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The Independent Online
Nato and Russia are to cooperate over ballistic missile defence - shooting down missiles aimed at any European target between the Atlantic and the Urals.

The commitment is part of the historic agreement between the Nato Alliance and Russia. The Independent obtained a leaked copy of the final draft of the "Founding Act" last night. It shows that both sides gave way on key issues to forge agreement.

The text, agreed last week between the Nato Secretary-General, Javier Solana, and the Russian Foreign Minister, Yevgeny Primakov, is being considered by President Boris Yeltsin before final signature next week. The 16-page Founding Act is to pave the way for Nato to issue invitations to east European states to join the Alliance at the Madrid summit in July - probably Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, in the first instance.

Among "areas for consultation and cooperation", the Act lists "possible cooperation in Theatre Missile Defence" - which Russia has requested since President Reagan's "Star Wars" initiative in the 1980s. Both Russia and the West fear that states in the Middle East have the ability to hit states in Europe with missiles.

Nato gave ground on several key issues, saying that it has "no intention, no plan and no reason to deploy nuclear weapons on the territory of new members", and does not "foresee any need to do so". Nato also gave way to Russian demands that it re-write its "strategic concept" - which dated back to the era of the Soviet Union. Page two of the Act says Nato will re-examine the concept "to ensure that it is fully consistent with Europe's new security situation and challenges" - in effect, admitting that the principal "enemy" may not be Russia.

The text also pledges Nato support for peace-keeping operations carried out not only under the authority of the United Nations, but also the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Lastly, the Act commits both parties to lowering armaments levels below those agreed in the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty.

The Russians have given way to Nato on two counts. The Act confirms Nato and Russia have no "right of veto over the actions of the other, nor do they infringe upon or restrict the rights of Nato or Russia to independent decision making and action". Although not in the document itself, it is also understood it will be "politically" binding - not "legally" binding, as the Russians demanded.