- The Washington Times - Monday, December 3, 2001

BRUSSELS Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and other NATO foreign ministers will take a new look this week at the way the alliance does business with Russia.
Since September 11, the allies believe they have detected a new, more cooperative Russia under President Vladimir Putin, a potential partner rather than the confrontational adversary of old.
NATO's secretary-general, Lord George Robertson, went to Moscow recently to discuss bringing Russia into the fold not as a member of the 19-nation alliance, but as a full partner in deciding some major issues of European security.
How to do this will be discussed Thursday and Friday at the foreign ministers' meeting.
"We have an important opportunity to recast NATO's relationship with Russia," said Nicholas Burns, the American ambassador to NATO. "NATO and Russia are increasingly allied against threats such as international terrorism. NATO must reflect these new realities and evolve accordingly."
Some see this as letting the fox in the hen house, allowing Russia to begin gnawing at the alliance from within, accomplishing through stealth what it failed to do through confrontation. Others believe it is pure pragmatism, a recognition of the reality that there is more for both sides to gain through cooperation.
The NATO members are still discussing what form this new relationship should take, but what most likely will emerge is a new structure within the alliance in which Russia sits as a full participant on selected issues.
The new partnership will not give Russia a veto, NATO officials insist. If the new consultative body fails to reach consensus between NATO and the Russians, the alliance's North Atlantic Council can still meet and come to a decision as it always has.
The consideration of a new approach comes four years after NATO and Russia created the Permanent Joint Council, which was to be a forum for discussing issues of mutual interest. In reality, it became an exercise in informing the Russians what the alliance had already decided, not the decision-making entity the Russians had envisioned.
In a joint statement at their recent summit in Crawford, Texas, Mr. Putin and President Bush spoke of "opportunities for an entirely new mechanism, joint decision-making and coordinated action."
British Prime Minister Tony Blair has suggested a new "Russia-North Atlantic Council," and Canada, Germany and Italy have made similar suggestions.
Whatever accommodation is reached with Russia, NATO's core mission as a collective defense organization would not change, said Mr. Burns. "Russia will not have a veto over alliance decisions."
The allied foreign ministers are expected to approve the new approach to Russia at their meeting this week and instruct the permanent representatives on the North Atlantic Council to work out the details.
When the alliance has decided its own position, it will be taken to the Russians for further discussion.
The allies hope this can be accomplished by early next year.
Some observers see the proposed new relationship as less than momentous.
"I don't think it goes as far as some people think it does," said Gordon Adams, director of security policy studies at George Washington University in Washington. "I see it as a series of tactical moves, not a shift in the tectonic plates."
Jakub Godzimirski, a Russia watcher at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, said there are no new factors that point to real change. The Russians still oppose American plans for missile defense and NATO's intention to bring in new members from the former Soviet bloc nations of Eastern Europe, he noted.

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