German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder Wednesday backed Russia's request for a role in NATO decision-making. The call came direct from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Speaking after talks with the German chancellor in Weimar, President Putin said he proposed setting up a new forum alongside NATO and the existing consultation committee where Russia would have an equal say in decisions with the Western alliance.

He told a joint press conference that the establishment of such a committee would improve Russia's relationship with the 19 NATO nations.

At present, Mr. Putin said there is a process in which the NATO countries formulate a policy among themselves and then present it to the Russians for discussion in a joint meeting. What Russia is proposing is to establish a new body in which all 20 nations discuss and decide together important questions of common and international interest.

President Putin said the new body would make decisions based on an equal status for its members and Russia would have an equal voice.

He said he would not expect he would have a veto over fundamental decisions regarding co-operation between NATO nations. He would not, for instance, demand the right to take part in questions regarding Article five of the Nato Treaty, that is the clause which says that an attack on one member is an attack on them all.

But the Russian president said he would want a say in matters regarding the fight against terrorism, the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and weapons of mass-destruction.

He would also want to discuss humanitarian actions and perhaps other matters that he said, events have shown, cannot be solved without Russian participation.

The statement which fleshed out a request Mr. Putin made in a speech to the German parliament last year, brought an immediate and cautiously positive response from Chancellor Schroeder.

Mr. Putin's wish for a qualitative improvement in relations, he said, was understandable and appropriate. Mr. Schroeder said he was sure that NATO nation's reactions will be generally positive and he felt sure that the discussions on further enlargement of NATO will also be influenced in a positive way.

Mr. Schroeder was careful, however, to say nothing about how NATO would accept the details of the Russian plan.

A spokesman at the U.S. Embassy in Berlin reacted with surprise, and said he was unable to comment at this stage.