- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 18, 2001

LONDON (Agence France-Presse) British Prime Minister Tony Blair has proposed a closer tie between NATO and Russia to reflect the changed relationship between the former Cold War foes after the September 11 attacks on the United States, government sources said yesterday.
Under the proposals, contained in a four-page letter sent late Friday to Britain's 18 NATO allies and Russian President Vladimir Putin, a new joint council would be established opening up unprecedented possibilities for joint decision making and joint action in such crisis areas as the Balkans.
British and Russian officials stressed that the proposed council did not mean Russia would be a full member of the Western military alliance.
"They are not the start of Russia joining NATO," said Ilia Klebanov, the Russian deputy prime minister charged with overseeing military and industrial relations.
On the British side, an unidentified official said: "This could well lead to taking common decisions together and taking common action together."
"I don't rule out doing military things together," another senior British official said.
Mr. Putin called Mr. Blair yesterday to discuss the British proposal, according to the Kremlin. Russia has long complained that current institutional arrangements do not give it enough of a say in NATO debates.
"The current format of Russia-NATO relations is purely based on talk and yields nothing," Interfax news agency quoted Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov as saying yesterday.
NATO's relations with Moscow are enshrined in a treaty creating a Permanent Joint Council, established in May 1997 to reflect deepening ties since the end of the Cold War. Russia and the alliance also carry out joint military maneuvers, including naval rescue operations and troop retraining, in Balkan trouble spots such as Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo.
Ties have been strengthened since Mr. Putin offered unprecedented support for the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan.
"There was a premise of there being a rapprochement before September 11, but the attacks have accelerated the process," Mr. Klebanov said. British officials said the "welcome" Russia gave to having U.S. and coalition forces based along border states in Central Asia, if necessary, showed the extent of the change in relations.
Moscow has strongly opposed some NATO projects, in particular a potential expansion at the summit planned for next year in Prague to invite Russia's former Baltic satellite states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to join.
Mr. Blair's proposals have surfaced ahead of a planned visit to Moscow next week by NATO Secretary-General George Robertson for what a spokesman said would be "informal discussions" on ways of reinforcing cooperation between the alliance and Russia.


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