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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia's NATO Hope Met With Skepticism

Western governments have reacted with surprise and incomprehension to an announcement by Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov that Russia hoped to sign an agreement with NATO in Paris on May 27 outlining post-Cold War relations between the two sides.

State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said Thursday, "We obviously want to get to the point where there is an agreement between Russia and NATO on a charter. I don't believe a final agreement has been reached on those charter negotiations. They continue and will continue," Burns added.

Primakov announced in Paris on Wednesday that President Boris Yeltsin and the leaders of NATO's 16 member states would sign a Russia-NATO agreement outlining their post-Cold War relations on that date, provided the document is actually ready.

At the French Embassy in Moscow, a spokesman said May 27 was a hypothetical date that remained to be discussed, stressing that it had been mentioned by the Russian side. It was, however, "an interesting indication of the Russian position. The first time the Russians had specified a date before the NATO summit in Madrid."

NATO will issue its first invitations to new members from the former Soviet block at the two day Madrid summit starting July 8. Moscow is eager to sign a deal with NATO before then so that its inability to prevent NATO's expansion is not made embarrassingly plain.

While talks on the final shape of a deal have moved forward, significant differences remain. Moscow wants guarantees that nuclear weapons and NATO military infrastructure not be permanently stationed on new members' territory. NATO says it has no reason to station weapons and troops in new member states but says its hands cannot be tied.

NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana is due in Moscow next Tuesday to continue talks on the accord with Russia.

The end of May has been mentioned previously by the Russian side as a possible time to sign a NATO deal. U.S. President Bill Clinton might be in Europe for a special European Union summit then, though no date has been set for this possible summit. The 50th anniversary of the Marshall Plan will be commemorated May 27 in Paris.

Analysts and diplomats say that Primakov may have chosen to announce a date to accelerate negotiations over the accord.

"It is perhaps an attempt to set a specific date to whip up the negotiations or they could negotiate forever," said Viktor Kremenyuk, deputy director of Moscow's USA/Canada Institute.

The choice of Paris to make the announcement fits in with a traditional Russian tactic of using Europe, especially France, as a foil against American influence in NATO and international affairs. A grand NATO-Russia summit in Paris would play up the European side of NATO, and correspondingly downplay the U.S. role.

Conveniently it would also satisfy Paris's desire to play world power.

"This is a chance for the French to play a more important role than they have been playing," Kremenyuk said.