Albright assures Russia on NATO growth Moscow is still anxious about alliance expansion


MOSCOW -- Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright tried to assure President Boris N. Yeltsin and the Russian people yesterday that NATO is "no longer a situation of you versus us," but she seemed to make little headway in easing Moscow's anxiety about expansion of the Western alliance.

Albright took her campaign to satisfy Russian concerns to Yeltsin's Kremlin office in a 50-minute meeting, his first with a senior American official since last July. And she tried to make her case for a new, benign NATO to the Russian public in a news conference.

But Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov said yesterday that Russia remained "negatively disposed to the expansion of NATO."

Washington is relying on Yeltsin to take charge of the NATO issue, and this meeting was intended to have him hear directly from Albright before he meets President Clinton in Helsinki on March 20 and 21.

Yeltsin, 66, looked gaunt and waxen, his face coated with a strong yellowy-tan makeup. His walk was steady, if deliberate, and his voice was much weaker than his traditional booming baritone, possibly an aftereffect of the double pneumonia that he suffered in January after a major heart bypass operation in November.

Asked later about his condition, Albright said: "I spent almost an hour with him, and we had a very sharp and good discussion. He did not use one note, and he's really right on point, and I think he's very much in charge."

She said Yeltsin had concentrated on how important it was that Russia not be isolated from Europe. "He spoke about the importance for us of seeing a new Russia," she said. "I spoke about the need for him to see a new NATO."

At a news conference later with Albright, Primakov said Russia would take part in a serious effort to negotiate a charter between Moscow and NATO and praised the constructive and "fruitful" talks on issues from the Middle East and Afghanistan to China and Cyprus. "We are doing everything we can think of to minimize any negative consequences that might result in the event NATO does expand," he said.

But Primakov insisted that any NATO-Russian charter governing security relations should have a "binding, mandatory character." That is a position that Washington rejects as giving Russia an effective veto over its military activities.

Albright said her talks here were "a serious and constructive exchange."

"But it's clear we have some complex questions to resolve," she said.

American officials said that positions had not shifted during the talks but that the conversations had been "devoid of theological posturing and represented a very practical discussion of the specific content of the charter," as well as the NATO proposal for a revised treaty on conventional forces in Europe.

Primakov is to visit Brussels for further talks with NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana this weekend.

Albright flew on to Asia for talks in South Korea, Japan and China as part of her nine-country, 11-day trip around the world.

Pub Date: 2/22/97

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