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NATO: Ministers Approve Closer Ties With Russia

Brussels, 6 December 2001 (RFE/RL) -- NATO foreign ministers meeting in Brussels today agreed to set up a new forum for cooperation with Russia, but said the details of how the forum will operate will be settled over the coming months.

This effectively puts a brake on the process, which British Prime Minister Tony Blair -- who floated the idea last month -- and NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson had earlier said could take shape as early as this month.

Robertson said after today's meeting that NATO recognizes Russia as a "key partner." He said NATO "deeply appreciates" President Vladimir Putin's cooperative stance on terrorism and wider issues, adding that NATO ministers note the "strong logic of common interest" that has come to shape NATO-Russian relations after the events of 11 September.

However, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said details of the eventual cooperation deal between NATO and Russia have not been settled at this stage.

A NATO spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a number of member countries today voiced reservations about closer cooperation. According to the spokesman, some NATO members feel Russia's commitment to cooperation with the alliance should be "tested" before Moscow is offered access to any areas of NATO decision-making.

Robertson says deeper cooperation with Russia will not come "at the expense of NATO's fundamental objectives."

The same point was made by Powell, who said ties between NATO and Russia may be strengthened, but that Russia will not have veto powers. He said NATO will retain the prerogative to act independently "on any issues." The inclusion of Russia in parts of the alliance's decision-making, Powell said, will not "limit" NATO, but would mean "leveraging" NATO with the help of Russia.

Powell, however, seemed to offer the envisaged NATO-Russia cooperation forum unprecedented scope, saying that once established, it could meet "several times a week." Currently, NATO's highest authority, the North Atlantic Council -- made up of ambassadors from member countries -- meets once a week under normal circumstances.

Powell also said the rapprochement with Russia does not mean that NATO will neglect "the other important issues on the table." Foremost among these, he said, is the alliance's commitment to enlargement and anchoring the "new democracies" of Central and Eastern Europe in the North Atlantic community.

Robertson today reiterated NATO's commitment to take in "at least" one new member at next year's Prague summit.

Powell also said NATO will redouble efforts to "reach out" to partners in Central Asia and the Caucasus -- something he said will be greatly facilitated by regular NATO-Russia consultations.