NATO Head Sees Bosnia Plan As Step to Russia-West Unity

PARIS -- Newly-appointed NATO Secretary General Javier Solana said Wednesday he believed Russia's participation in Bosnian peacekeeping efforts would open the way to closer cooperation between the Western alliance and Moscow.

"The participation of Russia ... I think is a very, very important decision that goes beyond the military aspects of this particular operation," Solana told a news conference during a visit to Paris to address the Western European Union, or WEU.

"It will open possibilities of closer cooperation in future," he said.

Russia is one of 14 non-NATO nations taking part in an alliance-led force of 60,000 troops which is due to help implement a peace deal in Bosnia.

Solana, currently Spanish foreign minister, did not spell out what cooperation he envisaged with Moscow.

Russia is taking part in NATO's partnership for peace program but has been wary of efforts by former East bloc nations to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

The partnership for peace program was set up to enable East European nations to build closer ties with NATO while awaiting membership.

Solana, preparing to take up his NATO post -- where he will succeed Belgian Willy Claes -- later this month after his appointment Tuesday, said Europe should both rationalize its own defense structures and seek to reinforce transatlantic ties through NATO.

He welcomed France's decision to take a greater role in NATO's military wing after cold-shouldering it for 30 years at the instigation of the late president Charles de Gaulle.

Solana said he knew of no plans by Spain, which is not yet integrated into NATO's military command structure, to follow suit.

Solana said the WEU and the European Union should aim for a gradual integration. The WEU is officially foreseen as the defense arm of the EU.