- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 29, 2002

ROME President Bush and the leaders of the other 18 NATO nations yesterday took the once-unthinkable step of making Russia a limited partner in the alliance that was forged more than a half-century ago to contain Soviet communism.
"Today marks an historic achievement for a great alliance and a great European nation," Mr. Bush said at the opening session of the NATO-Russia Council meeting. "Two former foes are now joined as partners, overcoming 50 years of division and a decade of uncertainty."
The leaders of the 19 NATO nations joined Russian President Vladimir Putin in signing an agreement that essentially made Russia an honorary member of the alliance.
Moscow now will have input on issues such as anti-terrorism and nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction, although it wields no veto over NATO decisions.
"The attacks of September the 11th made clear that the new dangers of our age threaten all nations, including Russia," Mr. Bush said at an air base on the outskirts of Rome. "The months since have made clear that by working together against these threats, we multiply our effectiveness."
NATO Secretary-General George Robertson said the new partnership is revolutionary.
"What's happening today turns completely on its head everything we've lived with up to now because here is the Russian president as an equal, round this table today," he said. "The responsibility and the credit for today's meeting, which by any measure is historic, lies with the president of the United States.
"He took an opportunity, he took the unique cooperation that happened after the 11th of September, and made it into something that looks to the future, builds a base for future cooperation with what were the former adversaries."
Mr. Bush insisted Moscow's inclusion in certain NATO decisions would not diminish the alliance's effectiveness in defending its members against attack from outsiders.
"Nothing we do will subtract from NATO's core mission," he said. "The NATO-Russia Council offers Russia a path toward forming an alliance with the alliance."
He added: "It offers all our nations a way to strengthen our common security, and it offers the world a prospect of a more hopeful century."
The new agreement gave Russia more authority than it had under a less-formal arrangement set up three years ago to try to nudge Moscow closer to the West.
Granting Russia a seat at the NATO table was an extraordinary evolution for an alliance forged between the United States and Western Europe in 1949 to fight the Kremlin in the Cold War.
"We have come a long way from confrontation to dialogue, and from confrontation to cooperation," Mr. Putin said. He called the pact "only a beginning" and looked ahead to a greater role for Russia in NATO.
Asked how NATO would respond if Moscow again turned against the West, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell suggested that scenario was no longer realistic.
"I really don't expect that to happen," he told reporters here. "I don't think we're going to see a rerun of this movie.
"The movie didn't play well the first time, and I see no reason why any future Russian leader with a state that is only, oh, roughly 55 percent of the size of the old Soviet Union would find it in its interest in any way to try to act in an aggressive manner.
"And, in fact, the experience of the last 10 years is that slowly but surely Russia is coming to the realization that its future lies to the West, and the West is coming to the realization that its future lies also with Russia," he added.
Mr. Bush agreed.
"Europe whole and free, and at peace, is an important goal, and one that will be more likely to be achieved for years to come by welcoming Russia west," he said.
Yesterday's landmark agreement came at the end of the president's weeklong visit to Europe. Before flying back to Washington, he stopped at the Vatican to meet with Pope John Paul II.
Mr. Bush views the NATO-Russia Council as a forum in which to further wear down Moscow's opposition to two strategic initiatives: the U.S. proposal for a missile-defense shield and NATO's plan for new members at a summit in Prague later this year.
The president's strong personal relationship with Mr. Putin and the September 11 attacks have served to mitigate Moscow's resistance.
Still, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement Monday reiterating its opposition to further NATO expansion.
"That does not surprise or shock me; it's been the Russian position for some time," Mr. Powell said. "Russia cannot have a veto over who becomes a member of NATO or not."
But he said Russia's opposition has been softened by a series of recent pacts between Mr. Bush and Mr. Putin, including the Treaty of Moscow, which will slash both nations' nuclear stockpiles by two-thirds over the next decade.
"I think we have succeeded in making the enlargement of NATO once again less of a problem for the Russians, and less of an irritant in our relations," Mr. Powell said.

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