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NATO, Russia agree return to top level talks

Russian envoy Dmitry Rogozin.
by Staff Writers
Brussels (AFP) Dec 3, 2008
NATO and Russia agreed Wednesday to gradually resume high-level talks, frozen over Moscow's war against Georgia in August, even though a litany of differences remain to be settled.

"NATO has taken a step towards Russia and it would be irresponsible of us not to sit down at the table," Ambassador Dmitry Rogozin told reporters at NATO headquarters in Brussels.

"The resumption of NATO relations with Russia is unconditional, which we can only applaud," he said.

In a communique after talks here, NATO foreign ministers "agreed on a measured and phased approach" for resuming the NATO-Russia Council, which meets at ambassadorial, ministerial and head of government levels.

"We have mandated the Secretary General (Jaap de Hoop Scheffer) to re-engage with Russia at the political level; agreed to informal discussions in the NRC," they said, and a full return once he reports back.

Rogozin said: "As we understand from the text of the final communique, Secretary General Scheffer now has the credentials to summon an informal NATO-Russia Council (NRC) meeting."

He added: "I personally do not see the difference between formal and informal sittings, except that you don't have coffee in an informal meeting but you still can order one."

Some European allies, led by France and Germany, are keen to resume contact with Russia, which is a major supplier of European natural gas and oil, but the United States does not want to reward Moscow for its actions in Georgia.

Yet despite the agreement, which came as NATO vowed to press ahead on membership reforms with former Soviet states Georgia and Ukraine, several sore points remain between the two.

Russia is vehemently opposed to independence for Kosovo, where NATO leads a peacekeeping force, and it has threatened to counter the extension into Europe of a US missile shield.

NATO allies, for their part, are angered by Russia's invasion of Georgia and its recognition of breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia, not to mention Moscow's decision to freeze a major Cold War arms treaty.

"Recent Russian actions and statements have seriously diminished our confidence in Moscow's continuing commitment to the founding values and principles of the NATO Russia relations," the ministers underlined.

The alliance is also concerned that proposals by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev for a new security pact in Europe are aimed at doing away with NATO, which Moscow fears is closing in on its borders.

Russia has called for a new, legally binding security pact to replace what it says are outdated arms control treaties from the Cold War and to help avoid crises such as the brief war in Georgia.

At an EU-Russia summit in France last month, French President Nicolas Sarkozy called for a security summit with Russia under the auspices of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

The proposals are on the agenda of OSCE talks in Helsinki starting Thursday.

But Scheffer said NATO's 26 nations were satisfied with Europe's security structures and that he could not imagine them agreeing to anything that would undermine institutions including the European Union, OSCE and NATO.

"We are quite happy with the security structure as it exists in Europe," said Scheffer, at a press conference with Georgian Foreign Minister Eka Tkeshelashvili.

He also asked how Russia would deal with issues like the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty, which Moscow froze a year ago and which limits the deployment of troops and military equipment.

"What will be the notion of territorial integrity? I'm standing next to the foreign minister of Georgia," he said. "It is important that we get more substance on the Russian proposals."

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NATO agrees thaw with Russia, boosts ties with Georgia, Ukraine
Brussels (AFP) Dec 2, 2008
NATO agreed Tuesday to gradually resume high-level talks with Russia, frozen over the August conflict in the Caucasus, and to deepen ties with former Soviet states Georgia and Ukraine.

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