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NATO Foreign Ministers Meet in Iceland - 2002-05-14

NATO foreign ministers meet in Iceland Tuesday with the goal of forging a new security relationship with Russia. The meeting in Reykjavik follows the announcement Monday that the United States and Russia have agreed to dramatically reduce their nuclear arsenals.

The goal of this Reykjavik meeting is to finalize details of a new relationship between Russia and the Atlantic Alliance. Such a relationship is to take the form of something called the NATO-Russia Council, which will provide a forum for talks on security, terrorism, and weapons of mass destruction.

But unlike the existing Russia-NATO relationship, this time Russia will be what diplomats here describe as "a full partner." As one senior U.S. official explained it, "in the past, NATO has presented Russia with policy decisions after they had been made. Now Moscow will have a seat at the table while the policies are being formulated."

According to diplomats involved in the issue, Russian President Vladimir Putin is quite positive about the new relationship and sees it as a fresh start in his country's dealings with NATO.

Plans to increase Russia's role in NATO intensified after the September 11th terrorist attacks in the United States. Since then, Moscow has shared intelligence with Washington and accepted the establishment of U.S. military bases in former Soviet Central Asian republics for anti-terrorist operations.

The Reykjavik talks come just one day after President Bush announced that he will sign a landmark arms reduction treaty with Russian President Vladimir Putin that will "liquidate the legacy of the Cold War."

The agreement will cut U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals from about 6,000 to about 2,000 warheads each.

The NATO ministers meeting in Iceland also are expected to review alliance plans for eastward expansion. A final decision on admitting new members is expected at November's NATO summit in Prague.

In addition, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell is expected to press his European counterparts to increase their military spending, so that the entire alliance is ready to respond quickly to various threats, including terrorism.

The new council is to be formally inaugurated on May 28, when Russian President Vladimir Putin joins NATO leaders at a summit outside Rome.