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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ministers Continue NATO's Push East

BRUSSELS -- NATO defence ministers vowed Wednesday to push ahead with enlarging the military alliance and said they would try hard not to isolate Russia in the process, a NATO source said.

Defense ministers meeting in Brussels regretted Russia's reluctance to sign NATO's Partnership for Peace agreement, but said the alliance would continue with its program of expansion to Eastern and Central Europe.

"We are sticking firmly to our guns. The internal process that we decided will go on, not withstanding Russia's hesitation on this," the NATO source told reporters.

"But we will make it clear to the Russians this process is not directed at them, that it will be transparent and will not be exclusionary in any way," he added.

In Strasbourg, a leading member of Russia's parliament, Vyacheslav Nikonov, reiterated his country's objections to NATO moves to extend membership at a later stage to its former Cold War foes.

"If the West wants to help Russian reforms then it should not enlarge NATO," he said.

"All Russian politicians and 99 percent of the Russian people feel that enlargement of NATO to the East would not be in our interest," said Nikonov, who chairs the Russian parliament's sub-committee on international security.

The NATO source said ministers were examining practical steps which could help to reduce Russia's feeling of isolation, including the dismantling of its chemical weapons.

Russia, he said, had about 40,000 tons of chemical stocks, including nerve gas, which had to be destroyed if it was to meet NATO requirements.

More than 20 countries have signed up for NATO's Partnership for Peace programme, which will initially lead to joint military exercises and possible full membership later on.

Bosnia was also high on the agenda at the meeting.

NATO defense ministers gave fresh support to beleaguered UN peacekeepers, ordering an emergency meeting of top generals to toughen their defenses, but pressed ahead with military planning for a possible withdrawal of the UN Protection Force.

"We have to prepare for a situation that nobody wants,'' said German Defense Minister Volker Ruehe. "We are attempting once again to make UNPROFOR more effective. But at the same time, we are in the preparatory phase for a pullout.''

Senior U.S. officials announced that the top military commanders from the United States and nine other NATO nations involved in the peacekeeping mission would meet Monday in the Dutch city of The Hague.

One official, who demanded anonymity, said the decision to schedule the generals' meeting marked a "dramatic turnaround'' at NATO where in recent days military planners have been rushing to finalize plans for a withdrawal.

In announcing Monday's meeting, the American officials said the generals will decide if additional "resources'' will be sent to the UN forces. They would not specify if that means more troops.

(Reuters, AP)