Nato to rule out nuclear arms in Eastern Europe

Nato is today expected to confirm it has no intention of deploying nuclear weapons on the territory of new members in Central and Eastern Europe.

Foreign ministers of Nato's 16 nations, who make up the alliance's North Atlantic Council (NAC), meet in Brussels this morning to discuss the contentious issue of alliance enlargement. Details of next year's special summit, at which invitations to East European states to join the alliance will be issued, are to be announced.

The summit, to be attended by heads of government, originally scheduled for May or June, is now expected to take place next July. Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary and Slovenia are expected to receive invitations to join Nato on or before its 50th anniversary in April 1999.

Tomorrow the ministers will be joined by Russia's Foreign Minister, Vitaly Primakov, in the North Atlantic Cooperation Council (NACC) for a "sixteen- plus-one" meeting, partly aimed at reassuring Russia that enlargement will not create a new Iron Curtain across Europe.

The communique from the meeting is expected to reassure Moscow that expansion will not mean moving nuclear weapons closer to Russia's borders. With short-range nuclear missiles and artillery withdrawn from Nato Europe, and the increased reliance of Britain, France and the US on long- range submarine- and air-launched nuclear weapons, there is no military reason to put nuclear weapons into the territory of new members. Nevertheless, the issue remains a symbolic and emotive one.

Diplomatic sources yesterday said the arrangements for next year's special summit had yet to be finalised. It is uncertain whether Russia's President, Boris Yeltsin, will be invited, and where it is to be held. Normally it would be in Brussels but, given its high profile, it could be held elsewhere - possibly in Madrid, to underline Spain's full accession to Nato. Nato sources yesterday said it would be "this side of the Atlantic" - ruling out Washington.

The Nato meeting will rubber-stamp the decisions announced at the London conference on the former Yugoslavia last week, confirming that a 31,000- strong Stabilisation Force -S-For - will take over from the Peace Implementation Force - I-For - on 20 December, and that the force will stay for 18 months.

Additional issues being discussed today are other developments in Nato- Russian relations and the linked question of Nato's reorganisation. The meeting is expected to concentrate on Nato's southern European command, based in Naples and now held by a US admiral, Joe Lopez. France has said it wants a "European" to command in the south.

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