NATO leaders say they will try again with Russia

NATO leaders have agreed to re-start direct talks with Russia, while simultaneously condemning the country’s military build-up in Georgia’s breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. “Despite our current disagreements, Russia is of particular importance to us as a partner and neighbour,” NATO heads of state and government said in a summit declaration issued in Strasbourg.

Areas of common interest to NATO and Russia included the stabilisation of Afghanistan, efforts toward arms control and disarmament, the fight against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, terrorism and drugs, as well as continuing anti-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia, leaders said. The NATO-Russia Council (NRC,) established in 2002 as a forum for direct dialogue between the sides, was suspended in the wake of last year’s Russian invasion of Georgia.

NATO foreign ministers agreed in December, 2008 on a gradual resumption of relations, with the first NRC meeting, at the ministerial level, now expected to take place before the summer. At the same time, officials at NATO’s headquarters in Brussels have also called for the NRC to improve its effectiveness, with diplomats saying the summit that the forum should now focus on finding “practical solutions” and “stay away from dead ends.” “We want to step up practical cooperation in the NRC,” NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said.

“We think this relationship can deliver more than it has until now, if all parties take the necessary steps,” the NATO chief said. Leaders endorsed this view by saying they stood ready to “assess possibilities for making (the NRC) a more efficient and valuable instrument for our political dialogue and practical cooperation.”

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