Leaders arrive for Helsinki summit
Talks to focus on NATO expansion
March 20, 1997
Web posted at: 8:03 a.m. EST (1303 GMT)
HELSINKI, Finland (CNN) -- U.S. President Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin arrived in Helsinki Thursday for the start of a two-day summit, in which they are expected to focus on NATO expansion plans.
"I think they have to understand that we have a schedule that
is going to go forward," Secretary of State Madeleine
Albright said in Helsinki, referring to the alliances' plans to expand eastward.
Clinton is recovering from knee surgery. Upon arrival in Helsinki, a catering vehicle lowered his wheelchair to the tarmac.
The Clinton administration has insisted it will not back
down from its plans even in the face of stiff Russian
opposition. But the summit is not expected to
result in agreement on the proposed expansion.
Map of current NATO countries and those invited to join
Russian officials, including Yeltsin, have warned that NATO
expansion would be a major mistake. Heading into the summit,
both sides appeared to be lowering expectations about the
outcome of the discussions.
"I don't expect them to change their views, and they
shouldn't expect us to change our views," Sandy Berger, Clinton's national security adviser, said. "The issue is how we work together in spite of that."
Berger's comments came a day after a Kremlin spokesman
blasted NATO expansion plan, hinting that it could
jeopardize relations between the East and West.
"President Yeltsin and the Russian leadership are convinced
that NATO's plans to expand to the east, if realized, could
be the West's biggest strategic mistake since the end of the
Cold War," Sergei Yastrzhembsky told reporters Wednesday.
Expanding NATO could create lines of division in Europe and
shatter the hard-won mutual trust between Russia and the
United States, Yastrzhembsky said.
Although Moscow's objection to the U.S.-promoted expansion
toward Russia's borders is causing anxiety, tensions and
uncertainty also linger about arms control, Yeltsin's health,
the path of economic reform and a months-long vacuum in the
top ranks in the Russian government.
Clinton wants strong NATO-Russia ties
Clinton, in remarks shortly before leaving, said enlarging
NATO was a top priority, but he also wants Russia to be a
"We are adapting NATO to take on new missions, enlarging NATO
to take in new members, strengthening NATO's partnership with
non-members and seeking to build a robust partnership between
NATO and Russia," Clinton said.
He said he and Yeltsin would discuss the outline of a
NATO-Russia charter to establish the basis of their future
"I believe NATO and Russia should consult regularly and act
jointly whenever possible," he said.
At a Madrid summit in July, the 16-nation North Atlantic
Treaty Organization will invite some former Soviet bloc
nations -- probably to include Poland, Hungary and the Czech
Republic -- to initiate membership talks with the aim of
joining in 1999.
NATO is offering Russia a new relationship through a special
charter, which would give Moscow the right to consult on
security issues but no veto power over the alliance's plans.
Russia wants legally binding commitments in the NATO
relationship, including guarantees that allied troops and
nuclear arms will not be deployed in new member states.
Arms control, Russian economy also top agenda
Clinton and Yeltsin also will discuss arms control and
Russia's troubled transition to a market economy.
"We will focus on three important areas," Clinton said.
"First, on moving forward with our work to build a Europe
that is undivided, democratic and at peace for the first time
of the history of the continent."
"Second, on continuing to reduce the danger of weapons of
mass destruction, and third, on expanding the economic
partnership that is good for Americans and Russians alike."
In their first meeting in 11 months, the two leaders will
greet each other Thursday night at a dinner hosted by Finnish
President Martti Ahtisaari at the Presidential Palace. That
will be followed Friday by two rounds of meetings followed by
a joint news conference and a private dinner.
Correspondent Jill Dougherty and Reuters contributed to this report.
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