Russian President Boris Yeltsin is getting top billing at a summit of European Union leaders.
Arriving Thursday on the Greek island of Corfu, the Russia leader was being feted at a dinner before signing a far-reaching trade and cooperation accord that will draw Moscow closer to Western Europe.The Partnership Agreement, which promises Russia tight economic and political links with the EU but no membership, will top the agenda when the dozen leaders open the two-day summit Friday.
Yeltsin told Russian reporters in Corfu that the accord "signifies the lifting of the (trade) blockade from Russia." Europe would be the first to "undo that situation," he said, according to the ITAR-Tass news agency.
Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev signed a separate East-West accord Wednesday, enrolling his country in NATO's Partnership for Peace program. That agreement will lead to military cooperation between Russia and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, including joint military exercises and peacekeeping operations.
About 2,000 police and anti-riot units guarded the main square near the 19th century Palace of Saints Michael and George where the leaders will hold their conference.
Greek navy destroyers patrolled offshore, while frogmen checked the shallow waters not far from the palace. Helicopters flew overhead.
The economic agreement Yelt-sin was signing could be overshadowed by an internal EU fight over a new chief executive.
Prime Ministers Jean-Luc Dehaene of Belgium and Ruud Lubbers of the Netherlands were front-runners to become president of the European Commission, which manages the EU's daily activities.
Chief executive Jacques Delors' term ends in December.
The post has become highly coveted as the trading bloc strives for more influence. Its new Treaty on European Union calls for a common foreign and security policy and a single currency by 1999.
Strong backing from French President Francois Mitterrand and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl made Dehaene the favorite. But many governments have not made their choices public.
Dehaene and Lubbers met late Wednesday with other leaders of their Christian Democratic Party to try to settle on one candidate. Kohl and Luxembourg Prime Minister Jacques Santer attended.
But the effort failed, increasing the chances of a stalemate at the summit. If that happens, another summit could be held by July.
"I wouldn't be surprised if we get a postponement," said Jan Rood, EU specialist at the Clin-gen-dael Institute for International Affairs in The Hague, Netherlands.
Greek Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou, who will chair the conference, has asked for a "spirit of compromise" in selecting Delors' replacement.
Before grappling with internal politics, the leaders were to meet with Yeltsin over dinner Thursday and at a ceremony Friday morning, where they will sign the economic pact.
Reached after 18 months of bargaining, the agreement will lift trade barriers to the sale of Russian goods in Western Europe and encourage Western investment in Russia's economy.