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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Expansion Talk Has Russia Hot At NATO

The thorny issue of NATO expansion caused more diplomatic heartburn over the weekend in the wake of statements by NATO Secretary General Javier Solana that new members of the alliance should be prepared to accept nuclear weapons on their soil.

Speaking in Norway on Thursday, Solana reportedly said that no decision had been made on which applicants would be considered in a possible eastward expansion of the alliance, and no timetable had been set.

"But our wish would be that they enter NATO with all of the consequences and responsibilities that brings," Solana said, according to The Associated Press.

Asked whether NATO should limit possible deployment of nuclear weapons in former Soviet satellite nations in order to avoid provoking Russia, Solana said, "We don't want to weaken the alliance's nuclear policy." He was quick to add that Russia has nothing to fear from NATO, and that the alliance wants "as close a relationship as possible with Russia."

The secretary general also said that some current NATO members, including Norway, do not allow the deployment of nuclear weapons on their soil.

Russia, which is extremely sensitive on the issue of NATO expansion, reacted angrily. A senior diplomat told Interfax on Sunday that the Foreign Ministry was prepared to issue a decisive condemnation of the statement. Russia's negative stance was well-known, he added, but it remained ready to seek a compromise.

"If Javier Solana's statement was reproduced accurately, without mistakes, it would pull the rug out from under this process," the diplomat said. The Russian Embassy in Norway had been instructed to confirm the report, he added.

The respected daily newspaper Izvestia added fuel to the fire Sunday with a provocative article accusing NATO of harboring secret plans to place nuclear weapons on Russia's borders.

"In NATO headquarters, the decision has been made, by all accounts, to stop obscuring the issue and openly admit that they are planning to deploy nuclear weapons right on Russia's borders," read the article.

The "blitz-analysis" article, filed from Helsinki, provided no direct quotations to corroborate the report.

But Izvestia admitted Sunday that the secretary general's words may have been misconstrued in its sensational article. "We allowed a few inaccuracies through in that article," said foreign editor Alexander Suchov.

"But in principle the issue of stationing nuclear weapons in Eastern Europe remains the most painful problem facing Russia," Suchov said. "NATO continues to use modal verbs -- they might station nuclear weapons, it is possible -- but we need to know once and for all: Are they going to place these weapons in new member states? Then we can decide whether they are our enemies, or if partnership is possible."

In Prague, signatories of a New Atlantic Initiative, a nongovernmental group which is made up of some 300 politicians, diplomats and businessmen, called for NATO's expansion under U.S. leadership.

Many of the speakers demanded that the former Soviet satellites integrate with NATO in spite of Russian objections to the move. "It has been six years since the Iron Curtain fell and it seems to me that relatively little has happened since then," Czech president Vaclav Havel said, according to AP.