NATO heads hail end of Cold War
REYKJAVIK, Iceland -- NATO foreign ministers have hailed a landmark agreement with Russia as marking the end of the Cold War.
NATO foreign ministers approved a partnership with Russia for cooperation on terrorism, arms control and crisis management at a meeting in Iceland.
"This is... the funeral of the Cold War. It marks a profound, historical change," said British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.
"With this, Russia comes out of the cold as a partner, ally and friend of NATO," he told reporters.
NATO will inaugurate one of the most significant changes since the fall of communism on May 28, when President Bush joins other NATO leaders and Putin for the first meeting of the new Russian-NATO council outside of Rome.
Russia will sit alongside the 19 NATO nations on the council to formulate joint policy on shared threats.
The deal to tackle problems together is an example of the Western alliance's transformation after September 11, ministers told The Associated Press.
"This initiative is quite simply historic, and even revolutionary," said NATO Secretary-General George Robertson as he opened the NATO meeting.
"Together, the countries that spent four decades glowering at each other across the wall of hatred and fear now have the opportunity to transform Euro-Atlantic security for the better," he added.
The two-day summit in the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik started on Tuesday, a day after Russia and the United States announced a pact to cut each nation's existing store of between 5,000 and 6,000 nuclear warheads by about 65 percent. (Full story)
There was a scare at the meeting when Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel collapsed and was taken away on a stretcher by an ambulance.
Michel fell over on his way to join fellow ministers for a photo session. He briefly got up but fell a second time and lay motionless as concerned aides and ministers gathered around him. (Full story)
CNN's European Political Editor Robin Oakley says the council moves and the arms reduction deal signifies "steady improvement" in relations between East and West.
"The whole chemistry of the relationship between Moscow and the West is really changing now," says Oakley.
"Vladimir Putin has very much taken a historic choice. Russia has always had the choice of turning East or West and he has very much made it a turn to the West.
"The NATO countries now are going to go on with somewhat changing the role of the organisation -- making it less of a collective military alliance and more of a collective security organisation with a much wider role in the world."
The Reykjavik venue is symbolic because it was in Iceland's capital that, 16 years ago, U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev met in a windswept villa and although failing to end the nuclear arms race, took steps to begin an end to the Cold War. (Background on 1986 meeting)
The agreement will not affect the alliance's core mutual defence role, and alliance officials insist safeguards are built in to ensure Moscow will not be able to veto NATO decisions if the new warm relationship goes awry.
NATO has insisted on a clause allowing either side to take back any security issue from the new council if there is no consensus, barring Russia from any veto over its actions.
The new relationship is a prize that Putin can hold up for domestic critics of his pro-Western policy.
Although he cannot stop NATO's next eastward enlargement -- probably onto the soil of the former Soviet Union -- he has at least won Russia a stronger voice inside NATO.
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