Russian Crisis: EC pact to calm security fears

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THE European Community hopes to set up a new pact for European stability by next spring, according to a document obtained by the Independent. The initiative has new importance in view of fears about the security situation in and around Russia.

At the same time, European diplomats were pouring cold water on the idea that the Central European nations should be admitted as full members of Nato. This comes after President Yeltsin, under pressure from the Russian army, launched a campaign against any expansion of Nato that would take in Central European nations and leave Russia isolated. A key concern is that moving Nato's frontiers to the east could lead to renewed tension between the alliance and Europe's biggest military power.

Talks on the EC plan are to begin in coming weeks with Eastern and Central European states, the countries that plan to join the EC. The US, Canada, Russia and EC foreign ministers gave the go-ahead when they met in Luxembourg on Monday, and agreed a paper produced by a high-level ad hoc group. The document lays out a framework for discussions, with the aim of creating a pact that would guarantee borders, protect minorities, and prevent conflicts.

The initiative, launched at the Copenhagen summit by Edouard Balladur, the French Prime Minister, is intended to reinforce stability to the east of the EC and put to use the common foreign and security policy which the Twelve will launch after the Maastricht treaty is ratified.

The document says the pact is principally an exercise in preventive diplomacy. It would help to tie together the existing European security and human rights organisations - the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe, the Council of Europe, Nato and the Western European Union (WEU), the defence body that is to become the EC's security arm.

As well as the Pact itself, there would be a series of 'round tables' bringing neighbouring states, together, and bilateral agreements between particular states. Nato and the WEU would not be immediately involved in extending security guarantees, though the prospect of associate membership of the WEU is held out. In the longer term, security guarantees might be included.

British diplomats were yesterday citing a multitude of reasons why allowing the Central Europeans to join Nato proper was impracticable and undesirable. In language strikingly similar to the old British argument against expansion of the permanent membership of the UN Security Council, one said: 'We don't want to rush it. Nato has been an astonishing success. We don't want to jeopardise that.' Moreover, 'picking among people in the east' was virtually impossible.

'There are a lot of factors: Nato is different from the EC, which has a dynamism towards enlargement. Nato, on the other hand, has to 100 per cent achieve the goals of its existing member states,' the diplomat added. Moreover, 'Hurd does not want to make commitments we won't be able to keep, espcially security ones.'

British diplomats said they still did not understand why Mr Yeltsin himself had put the issue on the agenda when he said on a visit to Warsaw last month that it was entirely up to Poland to decide whether it wanted to join Nato. Mr Yeltsin then wrote to Nato saying the Central Europeans should not be allowed in.

Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the former German foreign minister, also took in Russian misgivings: 'I would advise the greatest caution with the idea of expanding Nato to the east. We should not do anything that excludes Russia.'