Yeltsin pledges to redirect missiles aimed at NATO
May 27, 1997
Web posted at: 11:31 a.m. EDT (1531 GMT)
PARIS (CNN) -- Russian President Boris Yeltsin followed the
historic signing of a security agreement between his country
and NATO Tuesday with a stunning announcement -- Russia will
turn all missiles currently aimed at NATO nations away from
"Everything that is aimed at countries present here," Yeltsin
said in a statement translated for the heads of state
attending the signing ceremony, "all of those weapons are
going to have their warheads removed."
Yeltsin spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky later clarified the
president's remarks, saying that Yeltsin meant "that the
warheads will not be targeted at the states which
have signed the (NATO-Russia) Founding Act."
The spokesman said Yeltsin's remarks had been intended as a
goodwill gesture, and that "in future, the situation is
possible when the warheads will be dismantled."
Yeltsin's apparently impromptu announcement came at the
conclusion of the ceremony and caught Western officials off
U.S. National Security Adviser Sandy Berger said the
Russian leader's move was "obviously a much bigger step" than
any other weapons agreement currently on the table.
"It was a unilateral statement by Yeltsin, the meaning of
which we'll have to explore with the Russians," Berger said.
Russia and the United States signed an agreement in 1994
saying they would no longer target long-range nuclear
missiles at one another, but Yeltsin's remarks appeared to
extend that agreement to the 15 other NATO nations at the
In Moscow, a spokesman for Russia's Defense Ministry and the
Strategic Rocket Command said he knew nothing of Yeltsin's
announcement, and Russia's ITAR-Tass news agency reported
that the president said missiles aimed at NATO nations would
be taken "off duty."
Russia, NATO agreement significant on its own
The leaders of 17 nations sat at an arc-shaped table in the
opulent Salle des Fetes of France's Elysee Palace, the same
room used to sign the Bosnia peace accords, for the signing
of the Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and
Yeltsin called the agreement -- in which NATO says that for
the time being it has no plans to amass troops or build up
nuclear weapons in future member states -- "a victory for
reason." But, he said, "Russia has a negative view of NATO's
NATO leaders said the agreement cleared the way for expansion
into eastern Europe -- most likely beginning with Poland,
Hungary and the Czech Republic at a NATO meeting this summer.
"This NATO will work with Russia, not against it," said U.S.
President Bill Clinton. "The veil of hostility between East
and West is lifted."
In his opening remarks, French President Jacques Chirac
called the agreement a "fundamental act in the new
organization of Europe's security."
Yeltsin faces opposition to the agreement at home, largely
from nationalists who believe the pact contains empty
promises. But NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana, who
negotiated the agreement, praised Yeltsin's vision.
"The vision and leadership of President Yeltsin have been
truly instrumental to the success of this process," he said.
Russia has been granted a special consultative status with
NATO, but Yeltsin failed to convince the Atlantic alliance to
rule out future membership for former Soviet bloc countries.
Moscow Bureau Chief Jill Dougherty
and Reuters contributed to this report.
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