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Russia Links Afghanistan Help To Better NATO Ties

Russia's ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin
MOSCOW (Reuters) -- Russia could help NATO resupply its forces in Afghanistan if the alliance restores contacts with Moscow that were put on hold over the war with Georgia, a senior Russian envoy has been quoted as saying.

Ambassadors from the alliance's 26 members and Russia will meet in a joint council on January 26 for the first time since NATO suspended the sessions in protest at what it called Russia's "disproportionate" use of force against Georgia last August.

Dmitry Rogozin, Russia's ambassador to NATO, for the first time made an explicit link between the restoration of ties and giving the alliance transit routes across Russia and neighboring states to ship supplies into Afghanistan.

"If our joint business in this council goes well and after its informal session we agree on the resumption of the council's activities, I do not exclude that this transit will start working at full capacity," Interfax news agency quoted Rogozin as saying.

NATO is anxious to find safe supply routes that would reduce reliance on Pakistan, where Taliban militants have been attacking trucks delivering goods to Western forces in Afghanistan.

Rogozin said Russia had no agreement with NATO to allow military equipment to be shipped across its soil, but he said there were deals on the transit of nonmilitary goods that had not yet been fully implemented.

General David Petraeus, the U.S. commander running his country's operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, visited four ex-Soviet states near Afghanistan in the past few days to press for new transport routes.

The NATO-Russia Council is the principal forum for cooperation between Moscow and the alliance.

NATO foreign ministers agreed last month on a gradual resumption of contacts with Russia. But alliance officials say full normalization of ties will require a further political decision by member states.