NATO foreign ministers on Thursday set out a framework for the deeper ties Russia has demanded, but they unanimously rejected giving Moscow any say in decisions by the military alliance.
Ministers of the 16 North Atlantic Treaty Organization nations agreed on the main principles that will underpin relations, but they delayed a crucial decision on how to shape their reply until after meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev later in the evening, officials said.Many of the principles are outright rejections of Russian proposals, but it was unclear whether they could be cast in a face-saving form acceptable to Russian President Boris Yeltsin and the nationalistic forces in the State Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament.
German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel, whose country has taken the lead in pushing for concessions to Russia, said the central concern was to integrate Russia fully in European security mechanisms without allowing it to bog down NATO.
"We cannot open up a formal right of veto (for non-NATO members)," he said, "but it is very important that Russia be drawn into these considerations and efforts toward a security architecture."
Moscow has said it would join a NATO military cooperation program offered to all countries of the collapsed Soviet empire only if the alliance grants it privileged status reflecting its nuclear capability and former superpower status.
Among its demands, Moscow wants full and timely information on NATO actions, a right to call NATO consultations and the subordination of NATO to a wider body guaranteeing security in Europe, such as the Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Secretary of State Warren Christopher suggested that limited consultations outside the Partnership for Peace accord, which 20 former communist nations have joined, would satisfy Russia.
"Where Russia can and is prepared to make a constructive contribution, periodic consultations and practical cooperation outside the partnership would be natural and mutually beneficial," he said.
The ministers said in a communique the relationship with Russia would extend beyond the partnership agreement but only in a way that "complements and reinforces our relations with all the new democratic states to our east," implicitly reassuring east European nations.
East European countries, some of which hope their participation in Partnership for Peace will lead to full membership in NATO, worry Russia could gain an effective veto over their status. Russia has said it would regard NATO membership for any of them as a security threat.
The only real concession to Russia would be a promise to keep Russian officials informed of NATO operations, such as the airstrikes in Bosnia-Herzegovina that angered Moscow in April, if Russia drops its requests for a veto, senior NATO officials said.
NATO Deputy Secretary-General Sergio Silvio Balanzino acknowledged that Russia "will remain the single most powerful nation in Europe" and therefore NATO cannot build a new security structure for Europe "without Russia, much less against her."