- The Washington Times - Friday, December 7, 2001

The 19-member North Atlantic alliance, eager to enhance ties with Moscow, yesterday decided to create a NATO-Russia council in which Russia would be the 20th member but would have no veto power a formula Secretary of State Colin L. Powell termed "NATO at 20."

The limited integration left Moscow dissatisfied, prompting a warning that NATO would become obsolete unless Russia was integrated into the alliance decision-making process on an equal footing. The current format of the NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council, "19-plus-one," was formed in 1997.

Although the North Atlantic Council (NAC), NATO's political body, said the new council would "identify and pursue opportunities for joint action," it made clear that "NATO will maintain its prerogative of independent decision and action at 19 on all issues consistent with its obligations and responsibilities."

Mr. Powell, who represented the United States at the NAC meeting at the alliance's headquarters in Brussels, said NATO at 20 would not limit the alliance, but "we are leveraging NATO with the inclusion of Russia."

"Let me stress, however, that as we strengthen ties with Russia, it is not becoming a NATO member," he said at a press conference after the meeting. "There is an opportunity for greater consultation and coordination , for us to present our current concerns to Russia, and for Russia to respond to those concerns and to give us their perspective."

A State Department official later said that Russian membership in the alliance was "not under discussion" and Moscow's role would be strictly consultative.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who initially proposed forming a joint "forum," also had said that the joint council was not a road to membership.

But Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, who was to meet today with his NATO counterparts, said yesterday he favored "new mechanisms that would give all countries, in this case Russia and NATO member states, equal rights in discussing problems, making decisions and implementing them."

Then Moscow would "be ready to cooperate with the alliance in tackling the tasks they face, namely strengthening European and international security and stability and resisting the new challenges and threats the international community is facing," he said in an interview with Romanian media circulated in Moscow by the Interfax news agency.

"NATO, its aims and tasks have to change to meet the present conditions," he said. "Otherwise, the alliance will remain a structure not corresponding with the actual situation."

Although NATO and Russia pledged to put behind their hostile past and work together at a 1997 summit in Helsinki, the first joint council, which was set up during that meeting, failed to produce meaningful results.

Moscow was at odds with the alliance during the 1999 air campaign against Serbia over Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's treatment of the ethnic Albanian majority in the southern province of Kosovo.

However, Russia became a particularly important partner of the United States in its war on terrorism after the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington. The Soviet Union had fought a decade-long war in Afghanistan, where Washington was waging a military campaign against the Taliban militia and Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist network.

Some differences of opinion remained within NATO about how involved Russia should be in decision-making, with the United States insisting on a step-by-step approach in terms of Russia's integration and its cooperation with the alliance.

NATO's newest members and former Soviet allies in Central and Eastern Europe, which joined the pact in 1999, also have urged caution in welcoming Russia.

Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan yesterday warned against moving too quickly toward defining a hard and fast relationship that would carry risks of discord.

"We need time to think it through to decide which issues should be discussed only in the framework of 19, and which in the framework of 20," he was quoted by wire reports as saying. "What I'm asking for and there are several ministers who share this view is, yes I'm in favor, but don't rush us."

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