MOSCOW, Jan. 12 -- Russia's new foreign minister said Friday his main job will be strengthening his country's foreign policy to reflect Moscow's international interests as a great power. 'Despite the present difficulties, Russia was and is a great power and its foreign policy should correspond with that,' said Yevgeny Primakov, 66, at his first news conference as foreign minister. Russian President Boris Yeltsin named Primakov, a professional economist and former journalist who led Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service since 1991, to replace outgoing Andrei Kozyrev last Friday. Primakov indicated his policies would vary from Kozyrev's, who had earned a reputation for being too accommodating to the West during his five-year tenure as top diplomat. Primakov listed Russia's foreign policy priorities as defending Russia's territorial integrity, stabilizing troubled regions like the former Yugoslavia, and restricting the spread of weaponsof mass destruction. Primakov, who met Friday with foreign ministers from the Commonwealth of Independent States, put special emphasis on Russia's relations with its closest neighbors. He said a top priority was 'strengthening the centripetal tendencies among the countries of the former USSR,' adding: 'Of course, here we are not talking about the revival of the Soviet Union in its previous form.' Primakov said his first official trip would probably be a tour through capitals of the 12 former Soviet republics that make up the CIS. The new minister also moved to soothe Western concerns about his spy background and vocal opposition to NATO expansion, emphasizing that strong ties with the United States remain a priority.
Primakov said he had spoken by telephone with U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher and the two would arrange a meeting, which he said would be 'extremely useful and necessary.' The U.S. State Department has said the meeting will take place during the first week of February in Europe. 'The secretary of state emphasized that our two great powers bear special responsibility for world stability,' Primakov said. 'We completely support this viewpoint.' Primakov also noted that Russian foreign policy is crafted by President Boris Yeltsin, and said he would not 'over exaggerate' the role of the foreign minister. Some Western observers fear Primakov, a fluent English and Arabic speaker who is one of Russia's leading Middle East experts, will make policy adjustments that would steer Russia towards the East and cool relations with the West. Primakov said Moscow must be accepted by the West as an equal partner, echoing widespread Russian charges that Western powers have blocked Russia from international organizations and backtracked on promise of cooperation made during the heady days after the collapse of the Soviet Union. 'Without question we are happy about having a partner relationship with our former cold war opponents based on the basis of equal rights,' Primakov said. 'I want to emphasize that -- equal rights -- (we want) a partnership that is mutually beneficial and considers the interests of both sides. This will the aim of Russia's foreign policy.'