Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze told Belgian officials Monday that the Soviet Union wants to establish close economic ties with Western Europe and switch to a market economy.
Shevardnadze is on the first day of a two-day visit to Brussels, where he will sign a new trade and economic cooperation agreement with the 12-nation European Community trading bloc.He also will make an unprecedented visit to NATO military headquarters, underscoring the rapidly changing East-West climate.
`I never said integration (of the Soviet economy with the West) would be easy. But we are taking the first step, laying the first stone," Shevardnadze said in reference to the trade agreement negotiated with the EC.
Shevardnadze, who met briefly with reporters after talks with Foreign Minister Mark Eyskens of Belgium, was asked about Soviet promises to withdraw all its troops from Eastern Europe by the start of the next century.
"We must find a reciprocal solution," he said. "I'm thinking of the U.S. presence . . . We must have serious negotiations. We have a mutual interest in stability in Europe."
Eyskens said after meeting with Shevardnadze that the Soviets "want to break with their past."
"They have concluded that the centrally planned economy is no good," he said.
Shevardnadze met with Prime Minister Wilfried Martens and was to sign a trade and economic cooperation agreement at European Community headquarters.
On Tuesday, Shevardnadze will meet with NATO Secretary General Manfred Woerner and the ambassadors of the 16 NATO nations at the Western alliance headquarters.
Community and Soviet negotiators concluded a trade and economic accord Nov. 27 that provides for a gradual lifting of import quotas on Soviet industrial goods and cites a dozen areas in which the two sides may establish economic cooperation.
These include science and technology, banking, transport, agriculture, environmental protection, energy, raw materials and mining.
The accord excludes trade in goods that are considered militarily sensitive, according to EC sources.
The pact is the fourth between the community and an East European country since the EC and the Moscow-led Comecon trade group signed a mutual recognition accord June 25, 1988. Comecon stands for Council for Mutual and Economic assistance.
The EC has also concluded trade and economic cooperation accords with Hungary, Poland and Czechoslovakia.
These accords - plus the ones the European Community's Executive Commission is currently negotiating with Bulgaria and East Germany - are bound to dramatically boost economic relations between Eastern and Western Europe.