The US Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, said in a speech in Germany that Nato would take its first firm decisions on new eastern members next spring. A second wave of candidates would be considered later. Former East-bloc countries like Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic hoped to receive invitations to negotiate membership at an Alliance summit in Berlin in December. But Mr Christopher said yesterday that the Berlin gathering would now be just a preparatory meeting. Decisions would be postponed until a further summit in the first half of 1997.
Mr Christopher was delivering a speech in Stuttgart, heavily billed as an important US contribution to the debate on security structures for post Cold War Europe. He proposed, in effect, a two-tier Atlantic community, in which an enlarged Nato would sign formal security agreements with all other interested European countries, through an Atlantic partnership council. Russia would be invited to join this body but it would also be offered a one-on-one relationship with Nato through a special charter.
The plan is an elaboration of the existing, looser links between Nato and non-Nato European nations, called the Partnership for Peace. The aim is to solve a vexatious three-sided puzzle: the aspirations of former Warsaw Pact countries to join Nato as soon as possible; Russian fears that an enlarged Nato would be a political and military coalition against Moscow; and the anxieties of other countries, such as the Ukraine, who fear being squeezed between the two sides.
The Russian government has shown signs of easing its implacable opposition to the swallowing up by Nato of former Soviet client states. US officials said Moscow has entered discussions on a long-term Russia-Nato relationship. They said that the Foreign Minister, Yevgeny Primakov, had gone a long way towards defining the Russian national interests that must be considered.
Yesterday, Mr Christopher said that "Nato's co-operation with Russia should be expressed in a formal charter" which would lay down procedures for dealing with crises like the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia. The wording of the charter will be on the table at next year's Nato summit.
Mr Christopher - not previously known as a visionarythinker - said the new Atlantic community should be open to all European states, including Russia, "transcending the artificial boundaries of Cold War Europe (and giving) North America a deeper partnership with a broader, more integrated Europe."
The confirmation that Nato is not yet ready to pick its candidates for eastern enlargement will annoy the countries regarded as the likely first wave - Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. But they may be mollified by the evidence that the more cautious approach followed by Nato in the past two years has created the opportunity for a new security map which is approved by Moscow.Reuse content