Moscow willing to discuss proposed charter with NATO


THE Russian Foreign Minister, Mr Yevgeny Primakov, said in Brussels yesterday that Moscow was willing to discuss a proposed charter on relations with NATO but remained opposed to the alliance taking in former Soviet satellites as members.

Mr Primakov's positive reaction to the charter was welcomed by the US Secretary of State, Mr Warren Christopher, who described the foreign minister's comments as "very good news".

"We continue to be against NATO enlargement," Mr Primakov told a press conference after meeting foreign ministers from NATO's 16 members.

He called the expansion "unacceptable", saying it would create new divisions on a continent still trying to heal the wounds of the Cold War.

The talks were called to explore possibilities for a NATO proposed charter spelling out security relations between Moscow and the alliance.

Mr Primakov said he was willing to discuss this idea, saying it "paved the way for very constructive negotiations", but insisted it must be long on specifics.

"It is a document that must contain not just general principles but also concrete arrangements," he said.

Mr Primakov avoided using the term "charter", as proposed by NATO, because Moscow wants a more binding document in the form of a treaty.

A NATO offer to create a formal mechanism for consultation with Russia has been on the table since May 1995. But Moscow has persistently refused to enter discussions on this, fearful that such a move might be interpreted as tacit acceptance of NATO enlargement.

The foreign ministers on Tuesday formally authorised the NATO Secretary General, Mr Javier Solana, to open discussions on the charter with Russia after setting July 8th-9th for a summit at which it will name the first eastern European countries to be invited to join.

Mr Christopher welcomed Mr Primakov's response to the charter proposal.

"The very good news is that Foreign Minister Primkakov, agreed to commence a discussion with NATO for a document of some sort, a charter," he said.

He said he believed Moscow's fears on expansion could be resolved cover time".

In Moscow, President Yeltsin made Gen Igor Rodionov Russia's first civilian defence minister by retiring him from the army yesterday as he had reached the age limit for military service.

The decree confirmed Gen Rodionov (60) as defence minister but said he had been retired from the army "on reaching the upper age limit for military service."