NATO, Russia reach historic agreement

Wednesday, May 15, 2002

REYKJAVIK, Iceland -- Heralding the Cold War's funeral, NATO and Russia reached a historic agreement Tuesday to combat common security threats in the post-Sept. 11 era.

The deal establishing a NATO-Russia council to set policy on counterterrorism and a range of other issues was reached by Secretary of State Colin Powell and other NATO foreign ministers after meeting in the Icelandic capital with their Russian counterpart.

"This is the last rites, the funeral of the Cold War," said British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. "Fifteen years ago, Russia was the enemy, now Russia becomes our friend and ally. There could be no bigger change."

NATO Secretary-General George Robertson said the terror attacks in the United States had driven home the need for broad international cooperation to defend common values and interests, which now extend to Russia.

"This is not some sentimental journey. It's a hard-nosed, cold, calm exercise in collective self-interest," Robertson said.

The NATO-Russia pact, which arose from Russian President Vladimir Putin's support for the West since the Sept. 11 terror attacks, was the second significant step Russia has taken this week toward its former enemies. On Monday, Moscow and Washington agreed to reduce their nuclear arsenals by two-thirds.

Acting as partners

"We not only can, but we are obliged to act as partners in the face of this new threat," Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said.

The new NATO-Russia Council will set joint policy on a fixed range of issues including counterterrorism, controlling the spread of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, missile defense, peacekeeping and management of regional crises, civil defense, search-and-rescue at sea, promoting military cooperation and arms control.

Straw emphasized the cooperation was more than symbolic: "It could make an enormous difference in the war on terrorism."

NATO officials say the agreement will not affect the alliance's core mutual defense role and that safeguards are built in to ensure Moscow will not be able to veto NATO decisions if relations sour.

The foreign ministers also adopted what Robertson called "the agenda of change." Buoyed by prospects for a new U.S.-Russia weapons treaty, the ministers uniformly described an atmosphere of goodwill and consensus on the first day of meetings.

Capping an ambitious reform agenda to prepare for a summit in Prague in November, the ministers reviewed the alliance's plans to invite new members from eastern Europe, agreed to modernize NATO's military capabilities to respond to evolving threats and establish new relations with Ukraine and other former Soviet republics.

"NATO ... must change once more to deal with the threats of a new century," Robertson said. "Threats that cannot be measured in fleets of tanks, warships or combat aircraft. Threats no longer mounted by governments. And threats that can come with little or no warning."

Series of changes

NATO will inaugurate one of the most significant changes since the fall of communism on May 28 when President Bush joins other NATO leaders and Putin outside Rome for the first meeting of the new Russian-NATO council.

"Countries that spent four decades glowering at each other across the wall of hatred and fear now have the opportunity to transform the future of Euro-Atlantic security for the better," Robertson said.

Before the meeting in Italy, Bush and Putin are to sign a new treaty in Moscow to cut nuclear warheads.

Bush said the deal would "put behind us the Cold War once and for all."

Under pressure from Washington to narrow the "capabilities gap," the NATO allies also agreed to improve the alliance's ability to move troops into conflict areas quickly, enhance strike capabilities as well as shared communications and intelligence -- all areas viewed as essential to combat threats revealed by the attacks on New York and Washington.

"The United States, which has the largest defense budget of all, is continuing to add more money to our budget," Powell told reporters. "We think that all of our colleagues in NATO should be doing likewise."

Increased spending sought

Ministers had no quarrel with Washington's push for modernization, but Straw said it would be difficult to secure broad support for a big increase in defense budgets.

"It will require a lot of effort by European statesmen to persuade their public to increase military spending," he told reporters.

While specific recommendations will be worked out by defense ministers next month, the foreign ministers acknowledged that new threats mean NATO missions could be executed out of alliance territory.

"NATO must be able to field forces that can move quickly to wherever they are needed, sustain operations over distance and time, and achieve their objectives," the ministers said in a statement.

The ministers added Croatia to the list of nine candidates for expansion, but did not indicate which were favored to receive invitations for membership at the Prague summit.

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