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Clinton and Yeltsin Class over Future Role of NATO

By Daniel Williams
The Washington Post
BUDAPEST, Hungary

President Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin drew sharply opposing pictures of Europe's future Monday, with Yeltsin warning that plans Clinton supports for an expansion of NATO threaten to make an enemy of Russia.

The verbal clash highlighted a day of stark contrasts at the opening meeting of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, a loose 53-member grouping that aspires to play a larger role on the continent now that the Cold War is over. With the CSCE as a backdrop, the United States, Russia and Ukraine finalized arms agreements to reduce the chances of nuclear conflict and agreed that Europe should not again be split into hostile camps. But their glad tidings were shadowed by the brutal warfare in Bosnia and the sharp U.S.-Russian differences over security for Eastern Europe's former Soviet allies.

Clinton and Yeltsin displayed clear disagreement on the role NATO ought to play in coming years for those countries. In particular, Yeltsin denounced plans, which NATO approved only last week, to prepare for extension of its security guarantees to some former Soviet satellites.

"Europe, not having yet freed itself from the heritage of the Cold War, is in danger of plunging into a cold peace," Yeltsin said. "Why sow the seeds of mistrust? After all, we are no longer enemies. We are all partners."

The Russians have voiced irritation at the main implication of NATO expansion, which is that Russia remains a threat. Unpersuaded by surface arguments that general stability in Europe is the goal, Moscow has complained that in fact renewed Russian expansionism is what East Europeans fear - and what Western governments have begun to worry about as well with the rise of extreme nationalists in Russian politics over the past year.

Yeltsin's voice betrayed hints of bitterness as he indirectly condemned the United States' role in the moves to expand the U.S.-led defense pact, which he said risks isolating Russia. "It is a dangerous delusion to suppose that the destinies of continents and the world community in general can somehow be managed from one single capital," he said.

"We hear explanations to the effect that this is allegedly the expansion of stability - just in case there are undesirable developments in Russia," he said. "If on those grounds the intentions are to move the responsibilities of NATO up to Russia's orders, let me say one thing: It's too early to bury democracy in Russia."

Clinton spoke just before Yeltsin and described NATO as "the bedrock of security in Europe." He said "no country outside will be allowed to veto expansion" - a clear reference to Russia.

As if anticipating Yeltsin's objections, Clinton said NATO is no threat. "As NATO expands, so will security for all European states, for it is not an aggressive, but an offensive organization," he said, apparently meaning to say defensive. "NATO's new members, old members and nonmembers alike will be more secure."

U.S. officials played down Yeltsin's harsh words by characterizing them as a sop to critics back home in Moscow. They say that privately, Yeltsin has told Clinton that he does not object to expansion, but only to quick expansion.

The officials expect Russia to take part in the Partnership for Peace, a program of military cooperation that will prepare former Warsaw Pact countries for membership in NATO. Russia had thought the partnership, which sets no specific criteria for joining NATO, was as far as the Atlantic alliance was going to go in the foreseeable future.

However, during the next year, NATO plans to set minimum requirements for membership, making the partnership a matter of secondary importance. Last week, Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev balked at signing Moscow up for partnership activities.

The Clinton-Yeltsin rhetorical face-off here was an odd prelude to the successful finalization of major nuclear reduction treaties. Ukraine formalized its agreement to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which in turn brought into force the 1991 Start I treaty, negotiated between Washington and Moscow.

Ukraine's signature was necessary because it inherited nuclear weapons from the Soviet Union and has not yet given them up. Last January, Ukraine agreed to surrender its weapons to Moscow, and through the Non-Proliferation Treaty to become formally nuclear-free state. Two other Soviet republics, Kazakhstan and Belarus, already had agreed to give up their weapons, after the United States and Britain promised to consult with the former Soviet republics if they were threatened with nuclear war.