Brussels, 7 December 2001 (RFE/RL) -- NATO member foreign ministers and their Russian counterpart, Igor Ivanov, have begun talks today in Brussels on building a closer relationship. The 19 NATO members yesterday agreed to set up a new body -- the NATO-Russia Council -- to identify and pursue opportunities for joint action.
But NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson said that does not mean Russia will have the same power that NATO members have to veto alliance decisions. He said: "Today [6 December] NATO set the goal of creating in the coming months the new NATO-Russia body to allow us to work (with) 20 (countries) on issues where we have a common interest. Deeper, more concrete cooperation will, however, not be at the expense of NATO's fundamental objectives. We will retain our prerogative to undertake independent action at 19 (NATO members) and President Putin knows this and, of course, accepts it."
One NATO representative said pressure from the U.S. government led the summit to limit its offer of joint action with Russia.
Earlier yesterday, the NATO delegates issued a statement agreeing to increase their ability to combat terrorism and support the ongoing U.S.-led military operations in Afghanistan.
NATO and Russia have drawn closer since the 11 September terror attacks on the United States, with Russia cooperating in the U.S.-led international campaign against terrorism. Russia, however, still opposes NATO expansion.