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Russia Says May Offer Aircraft For Afghan Transit

Sergei Lavrov
MOSCOW (Reuters) -- Russia could offer its military aircraft to help supply NATO-led soldiers fighting Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said.

The Kremlin views Afghanistan as an area where Russian interests coincide with those of the United States, despite fierce disagreements on other issues.

When asked about ways to improve ties with the United States under new President Barack Obama, Lavrov said Russia was ready for close and wide cooperation on Afghanistan.

"Nonmilitary transit has already been granted as part of our agreements with NATO and the United States very recently received our agreement...for delivery of their cargoes for the needs of the international forces," Lavrov said.

"Additional steps are also possible," Lavrov said at a news briefing with European Union foreign policy chiefs in Moscow. "I would remind you that in April and May of last year we discussed with our NATO colleagues an agreement on the use of Russian military transport aviation for the needs of the international forces. There could be other agreements too."

"As President [Dmitry] Medvedev confirmed again recently, we are ready for the very closest and very widest cooperation on Afghanistan," Lavrov said.

Discussions between Russia and NATO on transit to Afghanistan, and other issues, were suspended by the alliance in response to Moscow's war with Georgia last year. Dialogue has been restarted in the past few weeks.

The NATO-led force in Afghanistan is seeking alternative supply routes after convoys of trucks passing through Pakistan were attacked by militants.

The United States uses an airbase in ex-Soviet Kyrgyzstan to help supply its operations in nearby Afghanistan, but the Kyrgyz government said last week it was closing the base.

Moscow, which has been suspicious of the U.S. military presence near its borders, has denied any link between the closure of the base and Russia's decision to give Kyrgyzstan a $2 billion loan package.