Moscow 'will not get NATO veto'

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The Independent Online

NATO insisted today that its ongoing plans to develop a new closer relationship with Russia will not give Moscow a veto over alliance decisions or change its core role as a defensive military pact.

"There will be no veto for Russia," said NATO spokesman Yves Brodeur.

He dismissed as "misleading" media reports that Russia would be offered equal status on NATO's decision­making North Atlantic Council.

"Russia will not sit on the NAC," Brodeur stressed.

He also said the new bonds with Russia would not affect NATO's key mutual defence guarantee, which states that an armed attack on one member nation is considered an attack on all.

That clause in NATO's 1949 founding treaty was evoked for the first time in October by the United States following the September 11 attacks.

Grateful for President Vladimir Putin's unprecedented cooperation in the anti­terrorism campaign post­September 11, NATO nations agreed in December to build stronger ties with Russia.

Since then, NATO and Russian officials have been fleshing out details of the new relationship, which should see Russian officials sitting on some policy­setting bodies and working much closer with NATO on issues such as counterterrorism; tackling the spread of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons; and peacekeeping.

The new arrangements are supposed to be in place by May, when NATO foreign ministers meet in Reykjavik, Iceland.

If so, the meeting will provide a symbolic illustration of how far NATO's relations with Russia have progressed since the angry Cold War confrontation over arms control in 1986, when Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and US President Ronald Reagan met in the Icelandic capital.

However the new arrangements have yet to be made final and pitfalls remain.

Some in NATO are wary of giving Russia too much influence over NATO policy and many in Moscow remain suspicious of the alliance, especially since NATO intends to expand further eastward this year.

Russia is opposed to the alliance's plan to bring in new members from the old Warsaw Pact at a November summit in the Czech capital Prague. It is particularly sensitive to suggestions that the Baltic states – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – could be among those invited to join NATO.

Brodeur said talks with Moscow were focusing on finalizing the mechanism that would enable Russia to sit in on NATO forums and draw up a list of issues to be handled by a new NATO body that would include Russian representatives.

Although he stressed nothing has yet been settled, Brodeur illustrated the thinking at NATO headquarters by using the example of a future peacekeeping operation similar to that currently run by the alliance in Macedonia.

In the future, Brodeur said, if Russia decided to participate in such an operation, it could join NATO meetings to plan and run the mission. However, if Russia objected to such an operation, the new arrangements won't not give Moscow enhanced powers to stop NATO going in alone, Brodeur said.