MOSCOW - NATO and Russia are discussing plans for closer security ties which "imply" a Moscow veto in some cases, Secretary-General George Robertson told Reuters on Thursday.
"That's one of the implications," Robertson said when asked whether the new proposals would effectively hand Russia a veto in NATO affairs.
"It would depend on the subject matter as well....but we're not at that stage yet. We're exploring it, and that is one of the implications that would have to be weighed up."
British Prime Minister Tony Blair has proposed that the western military alliance and Russia set up a new body that would take relations to a new level. It may be dubbed the Russia-North Atlantic Council, said Robertson.
London's proposal won particular attention as it was floated just days after a summit between Russian leader Vladimir Putin and U.S. President George W. Bush.
Robertson told a news conference that Blair's proposal involved a "sea change" in the way Russia would do business with its former Cold War foe.
He did not say in which fields Russia would be invited into the heart of the NATO decision-making machine, but Reuters understands they could include peace support operations, crisis management, terrorism and civil emergencies planning.
Crisis management has in the past included reacting to conflict in places like the former Yugoslavia, where NATO has intervened militarily - at times provoking Moscow's fury.
Blair's project would allow Russian representatives to join the alliance's 19 member states in the NATO council chamber to discuss specific topics.
"That would involve Russia having equality with the NATO countries in terms of the subject matter, and would be part of the same compromising, trade-offs, give and take, that is involved in day-to-day NATO business," Robertson said.
"That is how we do business among the 19...but we get compromises, we build a consensus."
"That would give Russia a right of equality, but also a responsibility and also an obligation that would come from being part of a consensus-building organisation," Robertson added.
"That is why I say a new attitude is going to be required on both sides if this is going to work. But if it works, it obviously is a huge change, a sea change, in the way in which we do business," he said.
The offer could go a long way to meeting Moscow's demands. Russian Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov said on Wednesday that Moscow wanted a "completely new mechanism" in which NATO members and Russia would discuss issues on an equal footing.
"This would enable Russia to have, if you like, voting rights, the right to take decisions and abandon all current forms of cooperation within the Permanent Joint Council (PJC)," he said.
LITTLE AND LARGE
Putin has made integrating Russia into key Western institutions a key policy, despite strong reservations amongst the military, but insists Russia, which remains a nuclear superpower, be treated with respect.
"Russia doesn't intend to stand in line for NATO membership," he said on Thursday after meeting key foreign policy lawmakers.
The 1997 PJC accord provides for monthly meetings between NATO and Russia, but the "19+1" format does not include the principle of consensus and therefore lacks political clout.
The new grouping of 20 states would mean "the great United States of America" would have an equal voice with "tiny Iceland", said Robertson.
However, the devil will be in the detail. It remains unclear how widely Blair consulted before he launched his initiative in a letter to Putin, and how much support the plan has within the alliance.
So-called "hard defence" issues, including how each country fits into the alliance's collective security arrangements, will remain a matter for the NATO 19. But opponents may argue that, in reality, drawing a line in the sand will prove difficult.
In addition, it is not certain that the offer will be enough for Russia which, having offered Bush strong support for his "war on terrorism" after the September 11 attacks on the United States, may be seeking even more influence.