NATO wants Russia to expand Afghanistan cooperation

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NATO wants Russia to allow the alliance to transport armoured vehicles to Afghanistan through its territory as part of an expanded transit deal, NATO's spokesman said Wednesday.

The transatlantic alliance wants to seal an Afghanistan cooperation package with Russia at a summit on November 20 which marks a major thaw in relations since a crisis sparked by the Russian-Georgian war in August 2008.

NATO spokesman James Appathurai said "intensive discussions" were ongoing to step up cooperation with Moscow on Afghanistan, including on training Afghan counter-narcotics officials and providing Russian transport helicopters.

Russia has allowed a one-way transit of non-lethal NATO supplies by train to Afghanistan.

The military alliance, which has faced security threats in its transit routes through Pakistan, wants Russia to allow equipment in and out of Afghanistan and expand the list of permitted goods.

NATO hopes to "broaden the eligibility criteria for what actually can go on the trains in both directions to include, for example, armoured vehicles," Appathurai said, stressing that it would still not include weapons.

Russia has provided training to Afghan counter-narcotics officials outside Moscow and is considering opening a second training center that would be open to more countries, including Pakistan, the spokesman said.

In addition, NATO wants Moscow to provide around 20 Mi-17 helicopters, spare parts and pilot training to Afghanistan.

The NATO-Russia summit in Lisbon will take place at the tail-end of a separate two-day meeting of alliance leaders.

NATO leaders are expected to approve during their separate meeting a missile shield project to defend Europe's population and invite Russia to cooperate in the system.

Previous US plans by former president George W. Bush to deploy an anti-missile system in former Soviet satellite states in eastern Europe angered the Kremlin, despite Western assurances they were aimed at states like Iran.

NATO hopes Russia will join in the new system proposed by the administration of US President Barack Obama.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen held talks with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev last week and left Moscow "with a positive feeling" on the missile defence plans following the meeting, Appathurai said.

© 2010 AFP

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