Yeltsin Hails NATO Deal

MOSCOW (Reuter)–President Boris Yeltsin said Thursday a new pact charting relations between Russia and NATO would help boost world stability–but his defense minister said it left some problems unresolved.

Yeltsin–in a telephone call with German Chancellor Helmut Kohl–described the accord as "a really major step aimed at more stability in Europe and the world overall," the Kremlin said in a statement.

NATO and Russia–former Cold War foes–said on Wednesday they had reached agreement to create a new partnership. It came as NATO prepares–in the teeth of Russian opposition–to admit new members from the former Soviet bloc.

But Russian Defense Minister Igor Rodionov–in Hawaii on the last leg of a visit to the United States–said the agreement did not address all outstanding issues between NATO and Russia.

"Despite the agreement reached in Moscow. Russia-NATO problems have not disappeared," Interfax news agency quoted Rodionov as telling reporters.

"As long as NATO remains a military and political alliance–this will raise a certain lack of understanding and acceptance in Russia," he added. "It will take a lot of work to establish a trusting partnership between Moscow and Brussels."

The agreement includes creation of a new NATO-Russia permanent joint council–which will meet twice a year at both foreign and defense minister level.

But some details remain vague–and commen’s by Yeltsin and. President Bill Clinton on Wednesday gave differing accounts of what the two sides had agreed.

"Decisions can be taken only by consensus. If Russia is against some decision–it means this decision will not go through," Yeltsin said in a television interview broadcast on Wednesday night.

But Clinton–who has said NATO will not treat new members as "second-class citizens," was adamant Russia would have no veto over alliance decisions.

"Russia will work closely with NATO but not in NATO–giving Russia a voice but not a veto over NATO’s business," he said.

Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov acknowledged at a news conference with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Thursday that Russia did not expect veto power over NATO decisions.

"Not being a member of NATO–of course Russia cannot hope to have a veto regarding internal NATO questions," he said.

"At the same time if common questions arise on joint operations and activities–we hope in this instance decisions would be reached on a consensus basis," he said–referring to actions such as Russian-NATO peacekeeping operations.

Primakov also repeated Russia’s opposition to NATO’s expansion into former communist-ruled countries of eastern Europe. "As before–we are against NATO expansion and consider it a big mistake," he said.

The liberal newspaper Sevodnya suggested Russia’s grumbling about NATO had been aimed at domestic critics of the deal.

The foreign minister "understands perfectly well that the current NATO cannot pose any threat to Russia today under its current leadership," the daily said. "Thus–all this threatening anti-NATO rhetoric is for Russian internal consumption."

Other commentators on Thursday said the Russia-NATO pact–which still must be approved by NATO’s 16 member governmen’s before leaders meet for a planned May 27 signing ceremony in Paris–was a significant document.

"The two sides succeeded not only in avoiding a dead end in the talks–which was a real danger throughout the consultations–but they also achieved compromise on all aspects of the future agreement," the liberal daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta wrote.

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