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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S., Russia Wrangle Over NATO, Summit

The NATO partners on Monday discussed a letter from U.S. President Bill Clinton to his Russian counterpart Boris Yeltsin, aimed at placating Russian resistance to the alliance's expansion into Eastern Europe, NATO sources said.

But, on a day when strains in relations between the two military superpowers appeared to be open for public viewing, the Kremlin also reacted angrily to Clinton's hesitation over whether to accept an invitation to visit Moscow for a summit on Victory Day.

The 16 North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies discussed the text of Clinton's letter in which he proposes a role for Russia in European Security, alliance sources said. They said Clinton wanted to consult with the allies before sending it to Moscow.

Clinton's initiative was seen by analysts as a concession to Russia, and as a token of how little permanent damage the war in Chechnya has done Moscow diplomatically.

But as Clinton attempted to soothe one sore point in the relationship -- NATO expansion in Eastern Europe -- he snagged on another. Yeltsin's chief spokesman Vyacheslav Kostikov warned in sharp tones that Russians would be angered by any refusal by Clinton to attend a proposed summit in Moscow around May 8.

Kostikov told Interfax that a refusal would revive scrutiny among Russians of the U.S. contribution to the World War II effort against Nazi Germany.

Clinton, in the light of the Chechnya conflict, is mulling over whether to accept Yeltsin's invitation to the summit, which is designed to mark the 50th anniversary of the end of the war. On Saturday he said only that he would decide "quite soon."

"It seems that not everyone in the United States understands -- or they are pretending they do not understand -- the extremely important psychological nuances here," Kostikov said. Victory Day, marked in Russia on May 9, was sacred for Russians, he added.

"A refusal by the American President to come to Moscow on that day, even for the most plausible reason, would awaken in the historic memory of Russians the long-standing discussion about the degree of adequacy of American efforts towards the general victory of the anti-Hitler coalition allies," Kostikov said.

Kostikov added that he was sure that, if he had been alive, the late Franklin Roosevelt, who was involved in the Big Power negotiations at the end of war, "would have come."

The timing of the meeting is awkward for the U.S. leader who supports Yeltsin's reform efforts but has been trying to distance himself from the Kremlin's display of force in Chechnya. Sixty-three congressmen wrote to Clinton this week asking him to boycott the summit.

Relations have soured since Dec. 1, when Russia postponed a cooperation agreement with NATO at the last moment in protest at the alliance's plans to one day invite Eastern European nations to join.

Russia's use of force in the breakaway republic of Chechnya beginning Dec. 11, further exacerbated the problem.

On Dec. 1, Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev, on a visit to NATO, had put Russian participation in the alliance's Partnership for Peace program on the back burner and refused to endorse a parallel "enhanced dialogue" on nuclear arms and security issues.

He accused NATO of expansionism by launching a study into the terms under which East European nations can join the alliance. Yeltsin himself warned the West such a move would create a new divide and replace the Cold War with a "Cold Peace."

NATO sources say the study on steps to be taken by countries wishing to join the alliance could be completed by next October and approved by NATO capitals by the end of the year. Negotiations with the main applicants, Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, could then begin early in 1996.

NATO sources said Clinton's letter could result in a new treaty embracing all aspects of future Russia-West relations.

"It is clear the U.S. administration wants to put enlargement on the fast track and is seeking to buy off Russian opposition with an offer of some form of enhanced relationship," said one alliance diplomatic source. (Reuters, AP)