Chirac Proposes 5-Power Summit

PARIS -- French President Jacques Chirac, encouraged by talks with President Boris Yeltsin, has floated the idea of a five-power summit in Paris to discuss Europe's future security system, diplomats said Wednesday.


Under the German-backed proposal, the leaders of the United States, Russia, France, Germany and Britain would meet in April to establish the broad lines of a deal that could enable Moscow to accept the enlargement of NATO, they said.


Russia would be offered security guarantees, arms control concessions and an enhanced overall relationship with the West.


The meeting would prepare the ground for a NATO summit in Madrid in July, at which leaders are expected to identify the first former communist European countries to be admitted to the alliance -- a move Moscow bitterly opposes.


One diplomat compared Chirac's proposed approach to the so-called "Two plus Four" talks, during which the United States, the Soviet Union, France, Britain and representatives of East and West Germany negotiated the terms of German unification in 1990.


Diplomats said a Paris summit also could provide a forum for bilateral talks between Yeltsin and U.S. President Bill Clinton.


The two men had been due to meet in the United States next month, but officials in both countries have hinted at moving to another venue because Yeltsin is recovering from pneumonia and multiple heart-bypass surgery and has had to cancel all foreign travel since last summer.


White House spokesman David Johnson said talk of a special summit in Europe with a Yeltsin-Clinton meeting was "highly speculative." He said the venue for the bilateral summit would be discussed during Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin's visit to Washington this week.


Chernomyrdin left Wednesday for the U.S. capital for a meeting of an economic and technical cooperation commission he co-chairs with U.S. Vice President Al Gore. The prime minister is expected to meet with Clinton during the visit.


Diplomats said Chirac discussed the Paris summit idea at a three-hour meeting with Yeltsin outside Moscow last Sunday, which focused on ways of overcoming Russian hostility to NATO enlargement and building a cooperative European security architecture.


Asked how Yeltsin had responded, one diplomat familiar with the talks said, "Russia's response is positive, but it will depend on there being a positive result to the meeting."


Diplomats said Chirac had acted in consultation with other NATO allies, especially German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who visited Yeltsin on Jan. 4 just before the Russian leader was hospitalized with pneumonia.


Clinton telephoned Chirac last week, and more consultations are due soon.


"Whether there is a Paris summit depends on the Americans," a European diplomat said. "It also depends on the prospects of a substantive outcome, and on whether the other NATO members don't feel they are being excluded by the Big Five doing the job."


Nations such as Italy, a member of NATO and the Group of Seven leading industrialized nations, are particularly prickly about being excluded from any big power diplomacy.


Smaller NATO states, such as the Netherlands and Denmark, are still resentful at having been shut out of the five-power Contact Group that made key decisions on former Yugoslavia.


"We have yet to reach a view on whether this would pay enough dividends to cover the potential cost," another European diplomat said. "If one half of NATO upsets the other half, it won't do anything for the NATO-Russia relationship."


U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is due in Paris on Feb. 17 and will travel to Moscow several days later. Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov is going to NATO headquarters in Brussels on Feb. 23, informed sources said.


Both Chirac and Kohl expressed optimism after their Moscow visits that a deal could be reached before the July NATO summit despite Yeltsin's demand for a legally binding agreement that would involve Russia in all major security questions.


Diplomats said that while NATO could not agree to a binding treaty that would give Russia an effective veto, the main elements of any Western deal with Moscow were likely to be: political assurances that NATO will not deploy nuclear weapons, heavy equipment or foreign troops in peacetime on the soil of new member states; a special, formal NATO-Russia relationship, including permanent consultation mechanisms; a new treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe that would take greater account of Russia's security needs, particularly in the Caucasus; new nuclear arms negotiations to reduce the big U.S. advantage in submarine-launched missiles; and a further boost to Russia's relationship with the G-7 and the Paris Club of Western creditors, and increased Western financial aid.


The Germany weekly newspaper Die Zeit quoted NATO General Secretary Javier Solana as saying the alliance still opposes a formal treaty governing cooperation with Moscow.


"The NATO alliance does not believe a treaty would be the best way to solve the problems that have to be resolved," Solana said, according to an advance text of the interview released Wednesday.


Asked about the possibility of Russia joining NATO, Solana said: "It is not yet the right time for that. But NATO is an open organization. Never say never."