The foreign ministers of NATO's 28 member states have held a second day of talks in Berlin, with discussions focusing on the alliance's relationship with Russia, Georgia, and Ukraine.
The gathering began with a plenary session in which the ministers discussed their partnership programs with non-NATO countries in an attempt to bring greater flexibility into their diplomatic dealings.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told a meeting of the NATO-Georgia Commission that Washington continued to support Georgia's sovereignty.
She said Washington was urging Russia to comply with a cease-fire agreement after the 2008 war over South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which calls for both sides to pull back forces to pre-conflict locations.
The NATO-Georgia Commission was established in September 2008 just after the brief war between Russia and Georgia. It is meant to serve as a forum for political consultations and practical cooperation to help Georgia achieve its goal of membership in NATO.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen opened the session by thanking Georgian Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze on behalf of all NATO allies for Tbilisi's contribution to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. Rasmussen noted that Georgia is the second-largest non-NATO troop contributor to the UN-mandated operation.
Georgian soldiers returning from Afghanistan arrive at an airport near Tbilisi. Georgia is the second-largest troop contributor of non-NATO members.
"The NATO-Georgia relationship has deepened significantly in recent years," Rasmussen said. "This has been to the benefit of NATO, of Georgia, and to the Euro-Atlantic area as a whole. And it has helped Georgia to play an increasingly important role as a security contributor."
NATO ministers also reviewed progress made in the NATO-Georgia relationship and outlined areas where further cooperation is needed, including the ongoing process of democratic reform in Georgia.
"Work remains to be done for the Georgian government to adopt and implement necessary reforms, and to cooperate with the opposition on implementing democratic reforms," it said in a statement.
The NATO ministers urged Tbilisi to implement electoral reform before the country's 2012 elections, and to continue strengthening the rule of law, the role of civil society, as well as judicial and media reforms.
Georgian Foreign Minister Gregory Vashadze Vashadze said his country remained committed to the necessary reforms, and expressed "concern over the Russian military build-up" in the breakaway Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.'Distinctive Partnership' With Ukraine
The NATO-Ukraine Commission also met in Berlin to assess the development of relations between the alliance and the former Soviet republic.
The ministers were expected to focus on how to improve or further develop cooperation on security issues of common concern -- such as the situation in Afghanistan, the Balkans, and Iraq; the fight against terrorism; frozen conflicts; and other regional security issues.
Rasmussen said the talks were helping to "establish clear priorities" for cooperation in the coming months.
"Our new strategy approaches partnerships at the core of NATO's mission and reconfirms the value of NATO'S distinctive partnership with Ukraine," he said.
Rasmussen also added that he had received assurances from Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych during a visit to Kyiv in February about his commitment to increasing dialogue and cooperation between NATO and Ukraine.Cooperation With Russia
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also met with NATO's 28 foreign ministers to discuss his country's partnership with the alliance.
In opening comments to NATO's Russia Council meeting, Rasmussen hailed what he called "our growing cooperation to face common challenges: from the stability of Afghanistan, to piracy, proliferation, and terrorism."
"Day by day we are building this modernized relationship for the 21st century because we know that by acting together we can do more for the international security," he said.
Rasmussen said Lavrov and the NATO ministers discussed joint aid for Afghanistan -- in particular, a program aimed at maintaining the Afghan National Army's Russian helicopters.
"We are also playing an active role in helping to bring peace and stability in Afghanistan. Today we will put into effect the project launched in Lisbon for a Helicopter Trust Fund," he said.
"It will provide training, spare parts and tool kits for three squadrons of Afghan helicopters. This is tangible proof that working together brings real security benefits."
U.S. President Barack Obama's administration has been facing domestic political opposition to the plan for greater cooperation with Moscow on missile defense.
On April 14 in Washington, 39 U.S. senators said in a letter to Obama that they had "serious concerns" about media reports that the administration may provide Russia with sensitive satellite data or technology related to antimissile interceptors.
Led by Senator Mark Kirk (Republican-Illinois), the senators urged Obama to "make clear in every engagement with Russia that it will have no say in the location, capability, or timing of U.S. missile-defense deployments with military alliance."with agency reports