Chirac woos Russia for Bosnia force



France initiated a last-ditch attempt yesterday to persuade Russia to take part in the international peace-keeping force for Bosnia, proposing a deal that would overcome the issue of US command. The plan, outlined by the Defence Minister, Charles Millon, was broached in talks between French and Russian delegations at the start of a Franco-Russian summit in Paris yesterday.

The Russian President, Boris Yeltsin, accompanied by Andrei Kozyrev, his Foreign Minister, arrived in Paris in the early afternoon yesterday and leaves today for the UN General Assembly in New York.

Interviewed by French television this week, Mr Yeltsin ruled out Russian participation in the planned Bosnia force, objecting to Russian soldiers serving under US or Nato command. Western participants are keen that Russia be involved, to preserve the international character of intervention and prevent any overt East-West split in the Balkans.

The suggested French compromise is that Russians should serve in a joint French-Russian division that, theoretically, would be under Nato command but, because of France's special relationship with Nato, would ''enjoy a certain autonomy''.

At a press conference in Paris last night, Mr Kozyrev said that he thought "other European countries, not just Russia" were worried by the idea of a single US command. Stressing that Russia was prepared to make a "significant contribution" to any international force, the Russian Foreign Minister said he believed that "if the political will is there - and we believe France has shown this political will - an acceptable solution can be found".

Mr Yeltsin was taken to the chateau at Rambouillet, south-west of Paris, for the first round of his talks with President Jacques Chirac. The two leaders are also expected to discuss the question of Nato expansion and the Western alliance's relations with Russia. A positive tone was set for the discussions when the chairman of the French National Assembly, Philippe Seguin, said this week that any eastward expansion of Nato would be ''an example of what should not be done'', and that it would be difficult to interpret such a move as other than ''directed against Russia''. Mr Kozyrev said he agreed "absolutely".

This Franco-Russian summit is diplomatically valuable to both leaders, who have recently come in for much criticism: Mr Yeltsin over Russia's use of force in Chechnya and Mr Chirac over his decision to resume nuclear testing in the South Pacific.

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