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Declassified US archives show Clinton told Yeltsin NATO would 'not be a threat to Russia'

According to the declassified documents, Boris Yeltsin suggested making a "gentlemen’s agreement" that no former Soviet republics would enter NATO

WASHINGTON, July 10. /TASS/. Ex-Russian President Boris Yeltsin told US counterpart Bill Clinton in 1997 that NATO’s eastward expansion was a mistake, while the latter gave assurances that the bloc would pose no threat to Russia, according to declassified US government documents published by the National Security Archive located at George Washington University.

According to the papers, Yeltsin told Clinton at their meeting in Finland: "Our position has not changed. It remains a mistake for NATO to move eastward." "I am prepared to enter into an agreement with NATO, not because I want to but because it is a forced step. There is no other solution for today," he stressed. "But one thing is very important: enlargement should also not embrace the former Soviet republics. I cannot sign any agreement without such language. Especially Ukraine," Yeltsin added.

According to the declassified documents, Yeltsin suggested making a "gentlemen’s agreement" that no former Soviet republics would enter NATO. This agreement would not be made public, he said.

Clinton responded by saying: "If you remember the last time we met, I told you that I was trying to create a new NATO that would not be a threat to Russia but that would permit the United States and Canada to stay in Europe and work with Russia and other countries to build an undivided, free Europe and to deal with other problems." "I've tried to reassure you, the Russian government and the Russian people that I’m trying to change NATO," the then-US president noted.

"If we were to agree that no members of the former Soviet Union could enter NATO, it would be a bad thing for our attempt to build a new NATO, but it would also be a bad thing for your attempt to build a new Russia," Clinton went on to say. "I am not naive. I understand you have an interest in who gets into NATO and when. We need to make sure that all these are subjects that we can consult about as we move forward - consult means talk about; it means making sure that we're aware of your concerns and that you understand our decisions and our positions and our thinking," he specified.

The documents make it clear that Clinton refused to rule out the possibility of Soviet countries becoming NATO members. He expressed confidence that such agreements could not remain secret for long. Also, in Clinton’s view, this would have created the impression that the North Atlantic Alliance is "still organized against Russia."