Nato to reach formal deal with Russia

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The Independent Online
Nato intends to conclude an agreement with Russia before the summit meeting next spring when invitations to eastern European countries to join the Western alliance will be issued, General Javier Solana, the Nato Secretary, said yesterday. Nato sources denied Russian reports that he wanted to sign the "sixteen plus one" deal , or "charter", by the end of this year but said that if the Russians were keen to co-operate then the charter, bringing together powers spanning the northern hemisphere, could be signed earlier.

Mr Solana also confirmed that Nato had no intention of basing nuclear weapons in the east European countries that might be invited to join Nato.

Russian leaders have publicly criticised Nato's intention to admit east European states as full members but they now appear to have quietly accepted that Nato will expand. They responded calmly to President Clinton's announcement that the first new members, possibly Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovenia, would join on 4 April 1999. But some sort of Nato-Russian "charter" is a prerequisite for expansion.

Another powerful incentive to conclude the Nato-Russian deal is the risk that individual states, especially the United States and France, will be tempted to conclude bilateral deals with the Russians, sidelining the alliance. William Perry, the US Defense Secretary, has favoured opening Nato up to the Russians, giving them considerable power to veto any Nato actions outside the provisions of Article 5, which governs collective defence, the core of Nato's business. Nato officials yesterday described the prospect of the Russians having to approve all other decisions, affecting peace-keeping or humanitarian aid, for example, as letting "the wolf into the hen house".

"We want to get the Russians involved in non-Article 5 business but we cannot go as far as joint decision making. They cannot have a formal veto," a Nato source said.

Mr Solana confirmed the broad structure of the charter, although no draft yet exists. "One can imagine this document consisting of three parts, the first of which will be a declaration, the second will be a mechanism for consultations and the third a mechanism for co-operation", he said.