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NATO and Russia resume formal ties

After an eight-month freeze, NATO and Russia have once again taken up official relations. But while a dialogue has resumed, disagreement between the two sides still exists.

Graphic of Russia's flag with NATO symbol

Russia and NATO member states originally founded a common forum in 2002

NATO and Russian diplomats met in Brussels on Wednesday for their first formal meeting since the Russian-Georgian war last August.

"The meeting opened with a shared view that the time has come to take the next step," alliance spokesman James Appathurai told journalists at NATO's Brussels headquarters. "There was a shared desire to focus on areas where we can be productive and not be backward looking".

However, Appathurai said differences remained over a series of military exercises which NATO plans to hold from May 6 to June 1 in Georgia, a former Soviet republic that has sought admission to the alliance. Russia strongly opposes Georgia's desire to join NATO and sees the anti-terrorism and peacekeeping exercises as a step in that direction.

Ahead of the meeting, Russia had said NATO should call off the exercises. It considers them a provocation in the wake of its August invasion of Georgia. NATO states said that the exercises were planned long before the war, and were not aimed at Russia. Those stances were unchanged in Wednesday's meeting, Appathurai said.

Working together

Wednesday's talks were being held under the framework of the NATO-Russia Council (NRC), which brings together the ambassadors of NATO's 28 member states and Russia. It was founded in 2002 in order to ease tensions between Russia and the West following NATO's decision to expand into the Baltic States.

Russian troops in Georgia

Russian troops moved into South Ossetia, Georgia last August

But NATO members froze high-level contacts with Moscow last summer to protest Russia's war with Georgia. A decision to resume formal ties was taken in March. Since then, there have been some unofficial meetings.

Now, NRC members agreed that they should try and make the forum work better by focusing on areas where Russia and NATO can cooperate, such as Afghanistan, Appathurai said.

But Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said NATO and Russia should not shy away from issues on which they fundamentally disagreed.

"The NATO-Russia Council is not a fair-weather body," Scheffer said at a press conference ahead of the meeting. "But we also have a great number of issues, I think, where we can have a fruitful discussion. Let me mention Afghanistan. Let me mention the fight against terrorism."

"Russia is an important nation, an important player," Scheffer added.

Compromise on arms-control treaty

Appathurai said members of the NRC expressed a "shared desire" to find ways to revive the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty. Russia suspended the arms-control CFE in 2007 in protest at US plans to site missile-defence systems in Poland and the Czech Republic, both of which are NATO members.

The CFE treaty limits the number of tanks and other military equipment stored between the Atlantic and Russia's Ural mountains.

They showed a "positive spirit of compromise" in discussing some of the main problems with it, Appathurai said.

NRC members also discussed plans for a meeting of NRC foreign ministers, tentatively scheduled for the second half of May.

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