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U.S., Russian Military Chiefs Meet In Helsinki

HELSINKI (Reuters) -- U.S. and Russian military chiefs on October 21 met for the first time since Russian forces crushed government troops of U.S. ally Georgia in a war that has strained relations between the two countries.

The U.S. Embassy in Helsinki said Navy Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, met Russian General Nikolai Makarov, head of the Russian general staff.

An embassy spokesman described the tone of the meeting as "cordial, but candid." They "discussed a wide range of issues of mutual concern, including the current security environment in Georgia, the future of the NATO alliance, and the current status of U.S. missile defense plans in Europe," the spokesman said.

In the aftermath of the five-day war in Georgia in August, in which Russian forces overran areas of the country, the Pentagon said it would review all aspects of its relationship with Moscow.

Washington shelved a deal on civil nuclear cooperation with Russia after the conflict, but the two countries have kept talking on issues such as North Korea's nuclear program and moves to press Iran to suspend its nuclear work.

Makarov told Russian news agencies that he had spoken to Mullen for about two hours and that a range of issues, including Georgia, had been discussed.

"During the meetings, we agreed that on key questions of a military character we shall periodically hold dialogue by telephone and, when needed, personal meetings, which I think will acquire a regular and structured character," RIA news agency quoted Makarov saying.

"We found an understanding on those reasons that have led to a cooling in relations between Russia and the United States," he said. Discussions had been "open and honest."

Russia also strongly opposes U.S. plans to locate parts of a missile shield in central Europe, saying it could start a new arms race. Makarov said Russia would take measures to counter the U.S. missile shield.

The United States contends that the shield, elements of which are planned for Poland and the Czech Republic, is needed to protect against possible missile attacks from what it calls rogue states, specifically Iran.