Russia reassures West on peace deal

MOSCOW (Reuter) - The Foreign Minister, Andrei Kozyrev, yesterday reassured Nato over Russian participation in its Partnership for Peace programme, saying Moscow would sign up for the deal later this month.

An aide of President Boris Yeltsin spread consternation in the Western military alliance on Thursday by saying Russia might take another six or seven months to make a final decision on joining the East-West military co-operation plan.

But Mr Kozyrev said this remark by the presidential spokesman, Vyacheslav Kostikov, may have been misinterpreted 'or maybe not accurately formulated'.

'The agreement with Nato will be signed in the second half of April as was provided by our timetable and then afterwards there will be the process of filling in (the details),' Mr Kozyrev told reporters. 'Maybe Kostikov was speaking of this process which may take a half-year or even more,' he said.

Mr Kostikov's comments, suggesting a rethink by President Yeltsin under pressure from nationalist critics in parliament and the armed forces, alarmed Nato which sees participation of its former Cold War foe as the programme's biggest prize.

Fourteen countries of the former Soviet bloc have so far signed the partnership deal, a programme of joint exercises and military co-operation between the Atlantic alliance and former Soviet bloc adversaries.

'The President has approved a strategy of developing pan-European partnership. And partnership with Nato is a part of this strategy, probably not the central one but an important one,' Mr Kozyrev said.

BUDAPEST - Russia's Prime Minister, Victor Chernomyrdin, said yesterday that Russia hoped to decide this year on applying to join the European Union, AP reports. 'We are preparing to submit our application to join the EU,' he said at the end of a two-day visit to Hungary.

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