U.S. President George Bush is welcoming the new NATO-Russia council that was formally established at a signing ceremony in Rome Tuesday. The alliance formed more than half a century ago to counter Moscow, has now embraced Russia as a partner.
They sat around a huge round table. One by one, the leaders of 19 NATO member countries and Russia signed documents formally establishing new ties.
It will be an evolving, limited partnership. The council will deal primarily with less contentious issues, and NATO will continue to implement decisions as it sees fit. Russia will not get a veto.
It is best seen as the beginning of a long process, one that President Bush said will bring Russia closer to the west. "Today marks an historic achievement for a great alliance and a great European nation. Two former foes are now joined as partners, overcoming 50 years of division and a decade of uncertainty. And this partnership takes us closer to an even larger goal: a Europe that is whole, free and at peace for the first time in history," Mr. Bush said.
In remarks shortly before the signing ceremony, the president said it is time to look to the future. He said NATO, a creation of the Cold War, must adapt to meet new threats. "The attacks of September the 11th made clear that the new dangers of our age threaten all nations, including Russia. The months since have made clear that by working together against these threats, we multiply our effectiveness," Mr. Bush said.
He said through the council, NATO and Russia will enhance cooperation in areas ranging from combating terrorism to emergency preparedness. He predicted the relationship between Moscow and the alliance will continue to grow.
"Nothing we do will subtract from NATO's core mission. We will be practical, moving forward step by step. And as our trust and track record of success grows, so will the breadth and depth of our work together," Mr. Bush said.
The NATO gathering at an airbase outside Rome came just days after a U.S. Russia summit in Moscow. The highlight of that summit was the signing of a nuclear arms reduction treaty that will slash the number of nuclear warheads ready for use by two-thirds over ten years.
Other stops on Mr. Bush's week-long European tour included Germany and France. In Berlin and Paris he called for continued solidarity in the war on terrorism in the face of European skepticism and fears of an expanding military campaign.