Clinton and Yeltsin face up to Nato challenge

Security, arms and economy to dominate agenda in Helsinki. Tony Barber reports

For all their public differences, there is a good chance that the Helsinki summit between Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin starting today will bring real progress, even on the potentially explosive issue of Nato enlargement. Not every outstanding problem is likely to be solved, however, and on some points the two presidents may have to fall back on the time- honoured diplomatic formula of "agreement to disagree".

Three subjects are expected to dominate the summit: European security, arms control and efforts to improve the Russian economy.

But it is Nato's determination to expand into central and eastern Europe that is likely to provoke the most emotional exchanges, leaving neither leader fully convinced that the other genuinely understands his position.

For some months, Mr Yeltsin has recognised the inevitability of Nato expansion and has concentrated on securing guarantees that the process will not endanger or isolate Russia.

His latest demand, made last week, is an assurance that Nato will not take in former Soviet republics - specifically, the Baltic states and Ukraine.

Publicly, it will prove difficult for Mr Clinton to accept this demand, since the Balts and Ukrainians would be outraged at any suggestion that the United States was implicitly consigning them to a Russian sphere of influence. Privately, however, Mr Clinton should be able to give Mr Yeltsin some words of comfort.

First, Nato has no immediate plans to incorporate the Baltic states and will have its hands full for years with the business of absorbing the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland - the three leading candidates for membership in 1999. Indeed, the US believes that the best scenario for the Baltic States would be inclusion in the first wave of European Union enlargement - although some EU countries beg to differ on that point.

Second, Nato's strategy for Ukraine is not to make it a full member but to establish a special relationship of the kind the alliance is trying to forge with Russia. There is, as Mr Yeltsin knows, no question of Nato basing nuclear weapons or alliance troops on the territory of new member states, let alone the Baltic republics or Ukraine.

However, Mr Yeltsin may object that Russia believes it won a pledge from the US and Germany that, in return for German unification in 1990, Nato would not expand at all into Eastern Europe.

For that reason, Russia this time wants a legally binding treaty restricting the terms of Nato enlargement.

Although the US rules out such a commitment, the summit may produce a compromise. The treaty defining Nato's relationship with Russia would be approved by all the member states' parliaments and would be as "politically binding" as was the 1975 Helsinki Final Act on European security and co- operation.

Even a deal along these lines may not be enough to banish the Russian suspicion that Nato is taking advantage of Russia's temporary weakness to absorb a part of Europe from which Russia has been invaded many times in the past.

However, Mr Clinton is likely to stress that Nato sees Russia as a long- term partner and that, in any case, Russia's main security challenges in the coming century will not come from the West but from its southern Islamic neighbours and China.

To convince Mr Yeltsin of his good faith, Mr Clinton is expected to announce support for Russian entry into important clubs such as the World Trade Organisation and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation & Development (OECD). He may also hold out the prospect of upgraded status for Russia at annual meetings of the G-7 group of leading industrial countries.

In return, however, Mr Yeltsin will have to promise a renewed commitment to economic reform, including the elimination of cor- ruption, the stabilisation of the government budget, and the creation of proper legal (not to mention physical) conditions for foreign investors and businessmen.

The appointment of Anatoly Chubais and Boris Nemtsov to mastermind the latest phase of reform may have reassured Mr Clinton that Russia is back on course after a year of drift. The prospects for progress on nuclear arms control at the summit are uncertain. Mr Yeltsin could promise a new effort to persuade the Russian parliament to ratify the 1993 Start-2 Treaty, which cuts the US and Russian nuclear arsenals by about two-thirds.

But the parliament, dominated by Communists and Nationalists, is in no mood to approve Start-2 as long as Nato insists on expansion. Since the US says that negotiations on a Start-3 Treaty cannot begin until the parliament ratifies Start-2, it is unclear whether much progress can be made in Helsinki.

However, neither leader has an interest in seeing the summit fail. There will be hard bargaining in Helsinki, especially over Nato enlargement, but on balance the summit is likely to warm up US-Russian relations rather than cast them into deep freeze.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm today
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Bianca Miller and Katie Bulmer-Cooke are scrutinised by Lord Sugar's aide Nick Hewer on The Apprentice final
tvBut Bianca Miller has taken on board his comments over pricing
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
Elton John and David Furnish exchange marriage vows
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
News
in picturesWounded and mangy husky puppy rescued from dump
Sport
David Silva, Andy Carroll, Arsene Wenger and Radamel Falcao
football
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Service Engineers



£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Service Engineers ...

Recruitment Genius: Project Director / Operations Director

£50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an incredible opportunity for a ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

£16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Administrator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: EWI / IWI Installer

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of design...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'