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NATO Resumes Talks With Russia, Differences Remain

Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said at NATO headquarters on April 29 that the move "does not mean we will suddenly agree on everything."
BRUSSELS (Reuters) -- NATO has resumed formal contacts with Moscow, eight months after they were frozen over Russia's war in Georgia, but said the two sides were not suddenly about to resolve their differences.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said that Russia was an important player with which the defense alliance must work on global security issues including nuclear nonproliferation, the war in Afghanistan, and the fight against terrorism.

He was speaking before ambassadors of the 28 NATO member states met Russia's envoy to the alliance in Brussels on April 29, the sides' first formal meeting since the five-day war in Georgia last August.

The meeting will prepare the way for a ministerial meeting expected in the second half of May.

"I am looking forward to this meeting...but it does not mean we will suddenly agree on everything -- we have interests that do not always converge," de Hoop Scheffer told reporters.

He said NATO and Russia should not shy away from issues on which they fundamentally disagreed.

These include differences over Georgia -- which has been promised eventual NATO membership by the alliance -- and the future of the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty.

The CFE treaty limits the number of tanks and other military equipment stored between the Atlantic and Russia's Ural mountains but Russia suspended its participation in 2007, saying NATO countries were flouting it.

Russia regards improving ties with NATO as part of a broader effort to improve relations with the West and in particular with the United States. Ties with Washington sank to a post-Cold War low under U.S. President George W. Bush.

Even so, Moscow has criticized NATO plans to hold military exercises next month in Georgia and urged other countries to boycott them. NATO says the exercises, which will run from May 6 to June 1, pose no security threat to Russia.

Russia, which crushed an attempt by Georgian forces to retake control of the pro-Moscow region of South Ossetia last August, has protested against the exercises by calling off a meeting with NATO military chiefs that was planned for May 7.

Russia's envoy to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, was quoted by Russian Interfax news agency as saying on April 28 that he would raise the issue of the exercises in the next day's meeting, as well as ways to improve political dialogue between Russia and NATO.

NATO is keen for more cooperation with Russia over the war against Islamist militants in Afghanistan. They already have an agreement to allow transit of nonlethal NATO supplies via Russia to Afghanistan, and NATO wants to build on this deal.

They will also look at ways to improve the functioning of the NATO-Russia Council as a decision-making body. NATO has complained Moscow used it as a forum for political rhetoric, but Russia has said it is not treated as an equal partner.