LOS ANGELES (Reuters) -- The top U.S. military officer has pleaded for continued cooperation with Russia despite Moscow's widely condemned military action in Georgia.
"I believe we've got to have a relationship with Russia," Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in Los Angeles.
"I don't believe we should discontinue engagement on the military side because that relationship is going to be very important in the future," Mullen said.
The United States and other Western countries strongly condemned Russia for sending troops and tanks into Georgia last month after Tbilisi tried to regain control of the breakaway region of South Ossetia.
In the wake of the war, the Pentagon said it would review all aspects of its relations with Russia. Washington and NATO have canceled military exercises with Russian forces.
While Mullen urged Moscow to respect a French-brokered peace pact and said U.S. ally Georgia deserved strong support, he argued that maintaining cooperation with Russia would benefit the United States.
"We need to approach this in a measured way and do it in a way that recognizes we have mutual interests with Russia," he told a gathering organized by Town Hall Los Angeles, a nonprofit group that sponsors debates on topical issues.
Mullen's measured remarks chimed with comments last week by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who said Russia did not pose a threat on a par with the Soviet Union.
They stand in contrast to harsher rhetoric from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and particularly Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain, who has said Russia would face severe consequences for its actions in Georgia.
Mullen said cooperation with Moscow was in the United States' interests both in the Caucasus and around the world.
Among issues on which Moscow and Washington could work together, Mullen listed efforts to ensure Iran's nuclear program does not pose a threat and preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
"We need to continue to figure out how to work together. That doesn't mean we're going to agree on everything we're doing but I think we need to stay engaged, military to military," he said.
"Actually...I think we need to do it broadly across our country because they're an important player in that part of the world and they're an important player globally," he said.