NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen was quoted on Wednesday as calling for an “open-minded and unprecedented dialogue” with Russia.
The appeal comes in a bid to reduce security tensions in Europe and confront common threats.
Rasmussen, who took over as NATO chief last month, said in an interview with Britain’s Financial Times he would ask senior officials to visit Moscow to hear the Kremlin’s views on how NATO should develop strategically in the long term.
“We should engage Russia and listen to Russian positions,” said the former Danish prime minister, who has made boosting ties with Russia a top priority since taking office.
Rasmussen acknowledged differences remained between NATO and Russia on issues including the aftermath of last year’s conflict in Georgia and the alliance’s possible enlargement to Georgia and Ukraine, both former Soviet republics.
But Rasmussen said he wanted to begin an “open and frank conversation (with the Kremlin) that creates a new atmosphere.”
He said he had a “vision” of a “true strategic partnership” in which both sides collaborated on Afghanistan, terrorism and piracy.
“Russia should realize that NATO is here and that NATO is a framework for our transatlantic relationship. But we should also take into account that Russia has legitimate security concerns,” said Rasmussen.
He said he was prepared to discuss a proposal from Russian President Dmitry Medvedev for a new security architecture in Europe.
NATO’s relations with Russia were damaged by the five-day Russia-Georgia war last year.
The 28-member alliance has put the subject of Georgian and Ukrainian NATO membership on the back burner in the interest of getting relations with Moscow back on track, but says membership remains open to countries that meet NATO standards.
Rasmussen said climate change “could lead to battles over scarce resources, notably a lack of drinking water and a lack of food, leading to armed conflicts.”
“We will see an increase in climate refugees and that will destabilize the situation in regions that are already unstable,” he said.
Rasmussen said there would be security implications for the Arctic.
“In a few years’ time, polar sea routes will be open to navigation. We will see new access to energy resources and it will increase competition in this part of the world. That might lead to conflict,” he said.