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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

NATO Issue Snags Talks With Poland

President Boris Yeltsin and his visiting Polish counterpart Aleksander Kwasniewski failed at their first summit Tuesday to resolve disagreements over Poland's desire to join NATO.


Yeltsin said the sides simply agreed to disagree, adding that he did not have much hope of reaching a compromise on the issue. "Both of us have our own opinion. We have decided not to speed things up and we both agree that we need to continue our negotiations and look for a way of solving the problem of understanding between NATO and Russia," he said.


"Although I do not put much hope into this, I do believe that such an understanding is possible," Yeltsin said at the end of the Kremlin talks.


Kwasniewski, in turn, assured Yeltsin that Poland's goal of membership in NATO had nothing anti-Russian in it.


"Poland does not want to be in NATO against Russia," Kwasniewski told reporters. "It does not want to be a front-line country in a new Europe." Russia vehemently opposes NATO's proposed eastward expansion, which is welcomed by Poland. Kwasniewski said an expanded U.S.-led alliance would be another move toward European integration, begun with the Soviet collapse in 1991.


In a possible sign of political rift, Tuesday's summit failed to provide any tangible agreements, with the exception of an accord on youth exchanges.


Yeltsin, however, remained upbeat, saying active economic cooperation was just around the corner and voicing his hope that relations with Poland would improve after what he called a "decline."


"Recently we had not gotten on well with [Lech] Walesa," he said upon welcoming Kwasniewski to the Kremlin. Kwasniewski defeated Walesa, the former Polish president, in elections last year.


Walesa said Tuesday the cooling of relations came because "Russia was testing its hegemonist tendencies, while I was resolutely defending Poland's interests."


Asked whether ties might improve under his successor, Walesa, an ardent anti-Communist, took a swipe at Kwasniewski's communist past.


"For former comrades, it's nicer for them to talk together," he said in Warsaw before leaving on a visit to the United States.


Kwasniewski also met Tuesday with Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and Russian parliament and business leaders. He told Russian businessmen there was considerable potential to intensify bilateral trade, as Poland now accounts for only 2 percent of Russia's foreign trade. Yeltsin's spokesman Sergei Medvedev said economic issues under discussion included plans to create a free trade zone in the western Russian enclave of Kaliningrad; a Russian offer for permanent gas and oil supplies; banking cooperation and Polish fishing and possible petroleum reserves development in the Okhotsk Sea.


Kwasniewski, meanwhile, said there was "no talk of any corridor" linking Kaliningrad with central Russia via Belarus and Poland, thus bypassing the Baltic countries, as some Russian reports suggested.


Early Tuesday, Kwasniewski laid a wreath at Moscow's Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. He also visited Donskoi Monastery to honor members of Poland's World War II underground government buried there.


On Monday, Kwasniewski began his trip by visiting the Katyn forest, where thousands of Polish officers were shot by the Soviets during that war.


The Polish president is due to travel to Irkutsk in Siberia to meet with descendants of ethnic Poles deported in the 19th century for actions against the tsarist government, which controlled part of Poland.