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NATO: Russia Agrees To Transit Accord While Reiterating Expansion Objections

Russian President Vladimir Putin arrives at the NATO summit in Bucharest today (epa) Russian President Vladimir Putin met with the leaders of NATO member states, on the last day of the alliance's summit in Bucharest.

He said at a news conference afterward that he was satisfied with the talks, despite some major differences.

On the positive side, NATO and Russia worked out a land-transit agreement that will allow the Western alliance to ship "nonlethal" supplies across Russian territory to its troops in Afghanistan. Officials say the agreement covers the shipment of supplies like food, spare parts, fuel, and transport vehicles, but does not cover land or air corridors for troops or military equipment.

On the other hand, Putin reiterated Russian concerns about NATO's plans to continue expanding eastward.

"The appearance on our borders of a powerful military bloc, whose members' actions are regulated, among other [documents], by Article 5 of the Washington [North Atlantic] Treaty, will be taken in Russia as a direct threat to the security of our country," Putin said. "And we cannot be satisfied with statements that this process is not aimed against Russia."

Speaking ahead of the meeting, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said the two sides had disagreements, but also common interests.

"Today our relations are truly multifaceted, influenced both by political realities and issues on which we differ, as well as by practical and very pragmatic common interests," he said. "At our meeting here this morning, we'll take stock of our commonalities but also seek ways to intensify the process of finding political common denominators on the issues on which we do not agree."

Putin's attendance at the NATO-Russia Council session comes after NATO on April 3 backed U.S. plans to deploy parts of a missile-defense system in Europe, a project Russia opposes.

Putin's attendance at the NATO-Russia Council meeting is to be followed by talks with U.S. President George W. Bush in Sochi over the weekend.

Earlier on April 4, in a meeting with Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, de Hoop Scheffer said the alliance will support Ukraine in any way it can to help it make reforms and become a member. The NATO chief was speaking at the opening of the NATO-Ukraine Commission meeting. He said he is sure Ukraine and Georgia will eventually be accepted into NATO.

NATO leaders announced on April 3 that Ukraine and Georgia "will become" NATO members, although they gave no timetable for the move and did not offer either nation a Membership Action Plan (MAP). The MAP is a key stage in NATO's complex admission process, helping aspirant countries meet the alliance's standards

Reassuring Russia

Yushchenko said his country "understands the challenges" it faces to become a NATO member. He also sought to reassure Russia that its bid to join the alliance is not aimed at Moscow.

"Our country has the full right to independently choose its own path of development, ensure its national security, and defend its vital interests," he said. "Our Euro-Atlantic interests are not aimed against any third country. Ukraine has no plans to allow any other country to station military bases on [Ukrainian] territory. It is forbidden by our national constitution."

NATO said in press release that allies have asked NATO foreign ministers to make a first assessment of Ukraine's progress at their meeting in December. Allied foreign ministers have the authority to decide on Ukraine's MAP application.

Yushchenko raised the stakes, saying Kyiv expects a MAP invitation at that time.

"We welcome the decision to hold a North Atlantic Council meeting at the level of foreign ministers in December 2008 to assess our country's progress on the path to MAP," he said. "I'm confident that Ukraine will be offered a NATO Membership Action Plan at that meeting."

compiled from wire reports

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