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New York Times
December 8, 2001
In Spat Over Russia in NATO, Rumsfeld Loses Out to Powell

BRUSSELS, Dec. 7 — A proposal by President Bush and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia to fundamentally alter the structure of the Western alliance by expanding Russia's role in NATO decision-making ran afoul this week of a clash of views between Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Western diplomats here say.

The diplomats said Mr. Rumsfeld made an 11th-hour attempt on Wednesday to have "NATO at 20" references removed from the draft communiqué that Secretary Powell and the foreign ministers from NATO's 19 member nations were preparing to issue in Brussels. "NATO at 20" means the 19 members plus Russia.

At one point on Wednesday, R. Nicholas Burns, the United States ambassador to NATO, told colleagues that he had conflicting guidance on how to proceed because Mr. Rumsfeld's signed instructions were at odds with Secretary Powell's. Twelve hours passed before the deadlock was broken.

The dispute was resolved in favor of Secretary Powell, diplomats said, and a prominent reference to a new "NATO at 20" structure was reinserted into the draft communiqué.

But the struggle over redefining the alliance is far from over. Member states have to work out a host of practical issues over the next six months about Russia's role before NATO ministers meet again in May in Iceland.

It was not clear what role President Bush played in resolving the dispute, but Secretary Powell asserted today that the "NATO at 20" formulation was laid down by Mr. Bush and, therefore, Mr. Bush's view had prevailed "because that was what I thought was reflective of what the president and Putin had agreed to and what the allies expected and what the Russians were expecting too."

Secretary Rumsfeld's intervention effectively froze deliberations on Wednesday, diplomats said, as a number of member states said they could not accept his attempt to undermine their goal of making the most sweeping statement possible.

Russia's integration holds the potential for being the most profound realignment of powers in the last half century, a number of diplomats here say.

The debate over how to do it pits conservatives in the Pentagon — and among some allies — against the more pragmatic style of Secretary Powell. The conservatives advocate an unconstrained role for the United States, while Mr. Powell favors a collective approach of working with allies. He sees great virtue in Russia's inclusion in the alliance to help to combat extremism, terrorism and the threat of weapons of mass destruction.

Secretary Rumsfeld's reported concerns reflected a view that any effusive descriptions of "NATO at 20" create an image that Russia is gaining the privileges of full NATO membership, perhaps even veto authority over alliance decisions.

The newest members — the former Soviet bloc nations Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic — also appealed to the majority to proceed more cautiously in bringing Russia into decision-making lest Moscow seek to use its influence to block NATO enlargement. Nine nations, including the former Soviet republics in the Baltics, are applying to join the alliance. "Some of these countries were saying that they just got into NATO a few years ago to get security from Russia, and now look who is seated at the table," said one Western diplomat.

Secretary Powell said today that he would not discuss Secretary Rumsfeld's role in the episode, but he was emphatic that in his mind the Pentagon never removed the "NATO at 20" formulation from the communiqué issued on Thursday. "As the secretary who tables these things at the end of the day, `at 20' was never out," he said, adding for emphasis, "I own the communiqué."

"There may have been drafts around, but `at 20' had to be in there," he said today as he flew from Brussels to Tashkent, Uzbekistan. He said the "NATO at 20" concept "is where we took the president in Shanghai and where the president took us in Crawford and Washington."

At the Pentagon, a spokeswoman, Victoria Clarke, said she had no comment on Mr. Rumsfeld's role in the deliberations.

The sensitive issue of veto authority was raised two weeks ago in Moscow, when NATO's secretary general, Lord Robertson, met with Mr. Putin and declared that Russia and NATO were on the brink of a historic accord under which Russia might have veto authority over alliance decisions in certain situations.

For Secretary Powell, who reiterated this week that both the United States and Russia understand that Russia will never gain veto authority, the "NATO at 20" formulation signaled a new strategic framework in which the security interests of the 19 member states and Russian security interests could merge in an era of cooperation against terrorism and of significant reductions in nuclear arsenals.

The Russian foreign minister, Igor S. Ivanov, said he was pleased with NATO's offer because, he said, Moscow was looking "to establish a stable, predictable system of security in the Euro-Atlantic area."

Mr. Putin, visiting Athens today, also expressed satisfaction, but added, "Russia is not desperately knocking on the door of NATO."

Mr. Powell said his actions mirrored what Mr. Bush and Mr. Putin asked for during talks in Shanghai and in Crawford, Tex., at Mr. Bush's ranch.

In their statement on Nov. 13, the two presidents said that "NATO and Russia are increasingly allied against terrorism, regional instability and other contemporary threats" and that thus the relationship should "evolve accordingly."

They asked NATO to begin formulating a new structure "to improve, strengthen and enhance the relationship between Russia and NATO, with a view toward developing effective mechanism for consultation, cooperation, joint decision and coordinated/ joint action."

Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain followed with a call for restructuring that would give Russia a seat at the table for decision making on the broadest range of activities.

On Thursday, the alliance's foreign ministers declared, "Today we commit ourselves to forge a new relationship with Russia" with the goal of creating "a new NATO-Russia Council, to identify and pursue opportunities for joint action at 20."

Still, the final document was a more modest blueprint than some members wanted and they put off most of the detailed work until May.

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