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NATO OPENS SKIES TO E. BLOC JETS

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NATO foreign ministers Friday endorsed a plan to allow unarmed military jets from Eastern bloc countries to fly over their territory as part of efforts to further reduce East-West military tensions.

The endorsement ended two days of talks and followed the announcement of a a historic visit by Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze to North Atlantic Treaty Organization headquarters Tuesday, the first ever by a Soviet foreign minister.Plans for the Soviet visit overshadowed the opening day of NATO talks, during which U.S. Secretary of State James Baker III outlined plans for shaping a wider political role for the alliance in an era of reduced tensions.

NATO Secretary-General Manfred Woerner told reporters the two would discuss "matters of common interest. This is a first contact."

Britain's foreign secretary, Douglas Hurd, described the visit as "a symbol of what's been happening" in East-West relations.

Shevardnadze will be in Brussels on Monday and Tuesday to sign a new trade and economic cooperation agreement with the 12-nation European Community.

On opening their skies to unarmed Warsaw Pact planes - a proposal first outlined by President Bush in the spring - the ministers said it "has a very special value." Under the plan, planes from both sides could fly over and observe military installations.

"The willingness of a country to be overflown is, in itself, a highly significant political act in that it demonstrates its availability to openness," it said. "Aerial inspection also represents a particularly effective means of verification."

The ministers gave their backing to the eventual reunification of East and West Germany but through peaceful and democratic means. The language was identical to that included in a statement issued over the weekend by leaders of the 12-nation European Community at a summit in Strasbourg, France.