NATO and Russia seek new trust in New York talks

22nd September 2010, Comments 0 comments

NATO and Russia on Wednesday sought to forge a new foundation of trust following the disruption of the 2008 war in Georgia, at a key meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.

Foreign ministers met in the NATO-Russia Council as the 28-nation Western alliance waits for Russia to respond to an invitation to hold a full-scale leaders summit in Lisbon on November 20.

The New York talks are seen as way to lay the groundwork for that summit, and were discussing issues including NATO-Russia cooperation on Afghanistan and the controversial US missile defense scheme.

NATO's dominant member, the United States, marked the meeting with a call to revive a Cold War-era treaty setting limits on troops and weapons which Russia froze nearly three years ago.

"We should agree to restore the viability of the conventional arms control regime in Europe this year, and move on to modernize the CFE (Conventional Forces in Europe) regime next year," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said.

In a possible gesture to Washington, meanwhile, Russia announced just before the New York encounter that it had dropped plans to supply Iran with S-300 missiles because they are subject to international sanctions.

"There was a decision by the leadership to stop the supply process, we are carrying it out," the ITAR-TASS news agency quoted the chief of the general staff Nikolai Makarov as saying.

Russia agreed the missile deal several years ago but has never delivered the weapons amid pressure from the United States and Israel, which fear they would dramatically improve Iran's defensive capabilities.

The US ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder told reporters on Tuesday that the session in New York was designed to provide a new channel of communication between the western alliance and Moscow.

"The NATO-Russia Council is a place where we can do business, where we can work together to resolve issues of common concern ... and also where we can continue to have a dialogue about those issues on which we disagree," he said.

"NATO wants, the United States wants, all of the allies want, a relationship with Russia, a partnership. We don't want an adversary. We're not looking for an adversary. We don't think Russia is an adversary.

"But just as friends disagree we will find that there will be times when NATO and Russia will disagree.

"That's not a bad thing -- that's just the reality. The bad thing is when we can't talk about it."

Russia's ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, has said that the Russian national security council will examine the summit invitation announced by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen last week.

NATO and Russia held their last meeting at the level of heads of state and government in April 2008 in Bucharest.

The Lisbon meeting would take place after NATO leaders hold their own summit in the Portuguese capital November 19-20.

Moscow's suspended compliance to the CFE in December 2007, angering Western governments.

In December 2007, it asked Western countries to accept amendments to the treaty agreed in 1999, as a condition for lifting the suspension.

But NATO nations refused to ratify the amended treaty, which took into account geopolitical changes wrought by the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, until Russian troops withdraw from ex-Soviet republics Georgia and Moldova.

It said their presence violates the CFE, a charge Moscow rejects.

Russia and the West are also at odds over the disarmament of conventional weapons in Europe, the situation in Georgia following the August 2008 Russian-Georgian war and NATO's eastward enlargement and the membership of post-Soviet states.

But the two sides have identified common interests in the face of threats such as terrorism, nuclear proliferation and drug trafficking as they gingerly revive ties that had sunk to a new low following the war in Georgia.

On Afghanistan, Russia meanwhile cooperates in the fight against drug smuggling and allows the transit of supplies, except weapons, for NATO troops through its territory.

Plans under the previous US administration for the US missile shield to be extended into eastern Europe, notably with installations in Poland and the Czech Republic, drew strong protests from Moscow.

But President Barack Obama last year scrapped the plan for sea- and land-based missile interceptors and sensors based partly on a reassessment of the threat from Iran.

© 2010 AFP

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