The White House says this week's agreement between NATO and Russia is yet another sign that a new era in relations has begun. The agreement will be signed in Rome on May 28, just days after President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin hold summit talks in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer says perhaps the biggest development of the Bush administration has been the evolution of ties with Russia.

"The president sees this as a new era that goes beyond, obviously, the Cold War and ushers in a new way with Russia, a way where Russia works with the West," he said.

Mr. Fleischer emphasized that the nuclear arms deal reached a few days ago between Washington and Moscow is one big step. The new NATO-Russia agreement is another.

"The president was pleased that NATO took a major step yesterday in Reykjavik toward integrating Russia with the European and Atlantic community of nations through the establishment of the NATO-Russia council," Mr. Fleischer went on to say.

Under the new arrangement, Russia will work with the 19 NATO members on a variety of issues, including non-proliferation, military cooperation, and combating terrorism.

The White House spokesman, who grew up at the height of the Cold War, marveled at the change. He said, "Who could have believed it when we were children growing up, Russia now as a partial member of NATO, NATO at 20! [twenty countries working together]."

When asked when the Russians might get full membership, Mr. Fleischer put the focus on all that has already been accomplished. He said the establishment of the NATO-Russia council is just the beginning, adding "this is a garden that will be watered and now will grow."