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Clinton tries to ease Russia's NATO worries

In strained presummit talks, President Clinton tried Monday to soften Russia's resistance to NATO expansion. In Moscow, Russian President Boris Yeltsin called for further U.S. concessions and said, "I don't want a return to the Cold War."

The points Clinton took up with Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov included assurances that an expanded NATO would pose no threat to Moscow and of a greater voice for Russia in the economic conferences of the world's seven-leading industrialized democracies.

While Russia cannot stop the alliance from inviting former Soviet allies to join this summer, both Yeltsin and Primakov signaled they remained opposed in principle. "We can't move any further," Yeltsin said.

Emerging from a session with Clinton, Primakov said: "Russia will not change its position on NATO."

The differences will carry over to Clinton's summit with Yeltsin in Helsinki, Finland, on Thursday and, White House press secretary Mike McCurry said, "There are likely to continue to be disagreements after the summit."

Primakov planned to fly home Monday night and to report to Yeltsin.

Despite the rhetoric, the two sides are working on a new relationship between Moscow and NATO, one that McCurry said would be made politically but not legally binding. If a charter can be completed, that probably would be done at a gathering of Clinton and European leaders in Europe in late May.

Primakov said that Russia would not drop its insistence that the charter have "a binding character" but that Russia understood NATO was a real force and would like to have a normal relationship with the alliance.

Clinton's knee injury and surgery caused him to delay the start of the two-day meeting with Yeltsin in Helsinki from Wednesday to Thursday. Ironically, the summit was shifted to Finland from the United States to accommodate Yeltsin, who had heart surgery in November and pneumonia in January.