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Polish president sees Russia joining NATO one day
By Andrei Shukshin

MOSCOW, Oct 15 (Reuters) - Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski said after talks with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Monday Moscow, a long-time opponent of NATO expansion, could one day join the bloc.

Kwasniewski, in Moscow on a short trip, said the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington had forced countries to reassess their beliefs and fears and had prompted a spectacular rapprochement between Russia and the United States.

"I have no doubt that U.S.-Russian relations are taking on a completely new meaning," Kwasniewski told a news conference. "And that is how it should be. NATO and Russia are also growing much closer, which is a very positive development.

"And to play the prophet, I would say I would not be surprised to see Russia become a NATO member in the long run."

Kwasniewski, whose country joined the alliance in 1999 despite angry noises from its former Warsaw Pact master, said he was aware of ingrained Russian suspicion of NATO, but believed Putin would not be guided by it.

"I think Putin is the kind of person who would be ready to shatter the threatening burden of prejudice and stereotypes," the president said, speaking through an interpreter.

Moscow has staunchly opposed the bloc's eastward expansion which has encompassed many of its Soviet-era satellites. It has threatened to bring its nuclear weapons closer to the new entrants' borders if NATO enlisted Baltic states.

But the attacks on the United States and Moscow's swift and steadfast support for U.S. President George W. Bush's war on terrorism have cleared the decks for building a new system of global security.

Senior U.S. officials and Putin himself have already said the prospect of Russia joining NATO should not be dismissed out of hand.

No party, though, has gone as far as to discuss concrete ways of tying Russia into the alliance. Moscow has said it will not consider anything less than full membership of the organisation, where all key decisions are made by consensus.

Kwasniewski said he wanted ex-Soviet Baltic republics to join NATO and believed Russia had nothing to fear from that.

Kwasniewski, a fluent Russian speaker, spent most of Monday with Putin and said he thoroughly enjoyed the talks, which focused on economic and security matters.

The future of Russia's Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad, which will be surrounded by EU states if, as expected, Poland and Lithuania join the grouping, was also on the agenda.

Kwasniewski said ties between Moscow and Warsaw were at a "turning point" after years of unease as the two leaders forged ahead with building a relationship free of old animosities.

Kwasniewski said Putin would pay an official visit to Poland in mid-January, the first by a Russian leader in eight years.

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