NATO expands Russia's role
ROME, Italy (CNN) -- Nineteen NATO leaders and the president of Russia signed the Rome Declaration on Tuesday-Russia council that marks a new era of cooperation between the former Cold War foes.
The historic document went around the council's table to be signed, ending with U.S. President George W. Bush and NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson.
"Welcome to the world of 20," Robertson told Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Russia had entered a less formal arrangement with NATO in 1997 -- the 19-plus-one Permanent Joint Council -- but the new treaty gives Russia more say in crisis management, peacekeeping and military areas such as air defense, search-and-rescue operations and joint exercises.
The NATO-Russia council will establish policy on a range of issues, including counterterrorism, regional emergencies and arms control.
NATO and Moscow will decide only on those issues on which they can find consensus -- while NATO will consider more contentious issues alone.
"The declaration is now signed," he said. "We exist formally and legally and every other way. This is the beginning, not the end. I want you to instruct all your officials to make sure that we work in the spirit that we have today."
"We understand perfectly well the changing relationship of Russia, which has been expressed very clearly today in this very important act," Putin said.
The impetus for the new relationship between Russia and NATO came largely from Putin, who has changed his outspoken opposition to NATO spreading eastwards, taking in former Warsaw Pact members, to a mutual understanding. NATO plans to add seven or eight new members from the former communist world later this year.
NATO members approved the new NATO-Russia council shortly after convening Tuesday at the Pratica di Mare military air base in Rome, Europe's second largest.
"Today marks a historic achievement for a great alliance and a great European nation," Bush said. "Two former foes are now joined as partners overcoming 50 years of division and a decade of uncertainty."
The approval clearly pleased Putin, who had only days earlier signed a nuclear arms reduction agreement with the United States.
"The significance of this meeting is difficult to overestimate," Putin said. "Even only a short time ago, a meeting of this type bringing together the leaders of Russia and NATO member states, especially bearing in mind the format in which we meet today and its quality, would have been simply unthinkable."
Now on the final leg of his four-nation European tour, Bush gathered Tuesday with 19 other world leaders at the NATO summit to endorse the council, giving Russia more of a say in the Western alliance..
Bush is also scheduled to meet Pope John Paul II on Tuesday before heading home to Washington at the end of a week's trip that has also taken him to Germany, Russia and France.
The NATO-Russia council will establish policy on a range of issues, including counterterrorism, regional emergencies, arms control and sea-rescue operations.
Call for NATO nations to beef up militaries
Meanwhile, Bush and Robertson said NATO allies modernize their militaries and increase spending as the alliance enters its partnership with Russia and adapts to the challenge of global terrorism.
In making his case for American military upgrades, Bush called on Congress not to fight the administration's decision to cancel the Crusader heavy artillery system.
The president said the United States needed to "spend wisely and not on weapons systems that have nice politics," and that he expected the final defense appropriations bill would not include money for the Crusader.
Robertson told reporters he also believed it was critical that the United States share technology with its European allies to close a gap between the United States and many of its allies.
Italy had imposed tight security for the meeting, fearing militants may try to target the first gathering of NATO leaders since the September 11 attacks on the United States.
All Italian airlines and some international carriers suspended their Rome operations during the summit to guard against possible hijackings.
The Italian government deployed fighter jets to patrol the skies in case of possible airborne attack. About 15,000 soldiers, police and firefighters were on guard duty at the base.
The Italian government said it had no knowledge of a specific threat to the meeting, but was taking no chances.(Full story)
Focus on terrorism
The treaty with Russia comes as NATO looks forward to expanding further at the end of the year, and as it reassess its role in an age when Russia is no longer viewed as an adversary. It also comes as the alliance recognizes a common enemy -- terrorism.
In opening remarks at the meeting Tuesday, NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson said September 11 -- and its "one act of terrible criminal violence" -- had brought home the message that the alliance must forget past differences. Rather, the NATO members must "find solutions, and find them together."
Bush, Putin tout new era
May 25, 2002
NATO chief on new era with Russia
May 24, 2002
Bush to honour Normandy war dead
May 24, 2002
Security tight for NATO meeting
May 27, 2002
NATO's challenge: Keep U.S. on board
May 27, 2002
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