Despite Russian President Boris Yeltsin’s protest that expansion of NATO is “a mistake and a serious one,” the Helsinki summit virtually guarantees that the alliance - originally created to block Soviet ambitions - will enter the 21st century with some of Moscow’s former satellites as full members.
At a post-summit news conference Friday, President Clinton was succinct: “NATO enlargement in the Madrid summit will proceed.” And with that, one of the knottiest U.S.-Russian disputes of the post-Cold War era seemed to come to an end.
Although Yeltsin did not retreat from his opposition to NATO enlargement, he seemed to acknowledge that he is powerless to block it. White House National Security Advisor Samuel R. “Sandy” Berger said the Russian president “pressed the position that they still don’t like NATO enlargement, but they are going to deal with it.”
Presidents and prime ministers of NATO will meet in Madrid in July to select candidates - almost certainly Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic - that will join the alliance before the end of 1999.
Although Yeltsin continued to object to NATO’s expansion plans, the two presidents called for accelerated negotiations on a new charter between Russia and NATO, which would establish a forum for military and political cooperation between Moscow and the 16-nation alliance.
Although the United States and its allies originally suggested the charter as a way to ease Russian objections to NATO expansion, Clinton and Yeltsin agreed that the plan is a good idea regardless of the outcome of the expansion dispute.
One U.S. official said the proposed charter would result in exchange of information about military planning between Russia and the alliance, a step that could prevent conflict.
“We believe that information is good,” the official said. “The more the Russians know about what NATO is doing, the better.” Of course, there will be secrets, he added, “but there is an awful lot we can tell them.”
In the end, both presidents stuck with the positions they had staked out over the past three years, when NATO first considered adding new members. But after months of trying to bury the expansion under a torrent of rhetoric, Yeltsin seemed to acknowledge that he cannot prevent the alliance from going ahead.
A joint statement, signed by Clinton and Yeltsin but referring to themselves in the third person, said: “They continued to disagree on the issue of NATO enlargement.
“In order to minimize the potential consequences of this disagreement, the presidents agreed that they should work, both together and with others, on a document that will establish cooperation between NATO and Russia as an important element of a new comprehensive European security system,” the statement added.
The charter negotiations began in January, but progress has been slow because of Russia’s reluctance to approve anything that seemed to sanction NATO expansion.
The negotiations are now expected to make much faster progress. Clinton and Yeltsin made clear at their Friday news conference that they hope to finish work on the charter in time for the Russian leader to meet the 16 NATO presidents and prime ministers before the Madrid meeting to demonstrate Russia’s standing as a major power in Europe.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: SUMMIT HIGHLIGHTS NATO expansion: Clinton and Yeltsin agreed to disagree about the expansion of NATO to the east. They will work together on a document establishing cooperation between NATO and Russia as a key element of a comprehensive new European security system. The agreement would be signed by NATO leaders and Russia. Yeltsin expressed continuing concern about the potential buildup of NATO forces near Russia. Clinton said NATO had no such plans and that it had no intention of stationing nuclear weapons in the new member states. Strategic arms: The United States and Russia hope to work together on a START III weapons treaty that would cut the number of nuclear missiles the two countries hold by 80 percent by 2007. The START II treaty would be modified to delay slightly the disabling of warheads and the actual destruction of missiles until 2007. As a precondition, the Russian Duma, which has opposed START II, must agree to ratify it. Congress also would have to approve the modification of START II. Ballistic missile defenses: Yeltsin agreed to permit U.S. development of limited ballistic missile defenses. Chemical weapons: Both leaders promised to push for quick ratification of the new global treaty prohibiting the use of chemical weapons and providing for their destruction. Economic initiatives: President Clinton promised new aid in the form of loans and credit guarantees to help stimulate investment and growth in Russia, if Russia reforms the rules of its economy. Clinton also promised to help Russia join the World Trade Organization by 1998. - Associated Press