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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

NATO, Russia Warm Up at Meeting

COMBINED REPORTS. -- BRUSSELS, Belgium


NATO on Wednesday invited Russia to its 50th anniversary summit in Washington next year after a show of new warmth between the former Cold War adversaries amid talk of long-delayed progress on nuclear disarmament.


NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana and U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright issued the invitation to Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov at a meeting of their Permanent Joint Council that both sides called friendly, relaxed and businesslike.


Ivanov withheld a response. The invitation is politically sensitive since three of Moscow's former Warsaw Pact allies - Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic - will join NATO at the April summit in an expansion that Russia bitterly opposed.


Ukraine accepted an invitation to the Washington summit, at which the alliance is due to adopt a new strategy for the 21st century. It said President Leonid Kuchma would attend.


Ivanov said Russia and NATO had "come a long way from mistrust to understanding" in the 18 months since they signed an accord to set up the joint council, which he said was of ever-increasing importance.


Albright said he told her that the Russian parliament would finally ratify the long-stalled START II Treaty by the end of December. She said she hoped to launch talks on a START III accord for more radical cuts when she visits Moscow next month.


Russia's Communist-led parliament has delayed action on START II, signed in 1993 and intended to halve the Russian and American nuclear arsenals to 3,000 to 3,500 warheads each.


"Due to our joint efforts, we have managed to stop violence in the Balkans and move things in the direction of a political settlement, which is the only avenue to sustain peace in the Balkans," Ivanov said.


The comment was striking because NATO and Russia came close to a crisis in October when the Western alliance approved an order to use force if necessary against Yugoslavia over Kosovo, even without a clear UN mandate, despite strenuous Russian objections.


Asked if he now accepted NATO had been right to threaten force because of the risk of a humanitarian disaster in the rebel Serbian province, Ivanov said Moscow's position on the so-called activation order hadn't changed and the use of force was no longer on the agenda.


The minister said Russia was positive in principle to the idea of joining NATO in aerial verification of the cease-fire in Kosovo but there were technical issues to resolve before Russian planes could join the overflights.


Diplomats said Moscow, facing a desperate defense budget crunch, wanted the West to finance its participation and was concerned about handing its aerial surveillance pictures over to NATO.


At a joint news conference, both Ivanov and Solana said the Kosovo crisis had shown the benefits of NATO-Russia consultation within the joint council, even if they had not always agreed.


Participants said the atmosphere in the meeting was strikingly warmer than when Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, a former Soviet intelligence chief, had been foreign minister.


The sides agreed on a full program of cooperation for 1999, including studies on peacekeeping and crisis management, work on the nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction, consultation on the safety of nuclear weapons and progress on conventional disarmament and military cooperation.


Ivanov expressed condolences over the brutal murder Tuesday of three Britons and a New Zealander in Chechnya. "Russia will spare no efforts to find the culprits,'' he said.