NATO-Russia meeting opens in Bucharest

Other News Materials 4 April 2008 13:42 (UTC +04:00)

(dpa) - Russian President Vladimir Putin and the leaders of NATO began discussing possible avenues of cooperation at a meeting in Bucharest on Friday which was seen as giving the two sides the chance to bury the hatchet.

The NATO-Russia Council (NRC) was established in 2002 as a means of fostering mutual understanding.

But relations between NATO and Russia have progressively deteriorated since, reaching one of their lowest post-Cold War points over the past year.

Disagreements cover a variety of issues, including Kosovo, a planned US missile defence shield in Central Europe and NATO's willingness to extend its reach eastwards.

But Moscow was mollified on the eve of the NRC by NATO's decision not to give membership plans to Georgia and Ukraine for the time being.

And the Russian media on Friday were busy emphasising the positives of NATO-Russia joint action rather than the negatives of West-East acrimony.

One place where cooperation is particularly cherished by the alliance is in Afghanistan.

Under a deal that is expected to be formalised at the NRC, the Kremlin is to agree to allow NATO to use Russian territory to deliver non-lethal goods to its military bases in Afghanistan.

The two sides are already helping each other out in Afghanistan in the fight against illegal drugs, with Russian counter-narcotics experts training local personnel.

"Whatever we say, the role of NATO as a stability-securing organization objectively exists," Russian news agency Itar-Tass quoted a high-ranking Kremlin official as saying Friday.

"We proceed from the fact that more close, open and equal cooperation with NATO answers Russia's interests," the official added.

Thursday's NRC was the first to be attended by Putin and the last by his US counterpart, George W Bush.

The two were due meet again in the Black Sea resort of Sochi over the weekend.

Friday's meeting was taking place in Bucharest's Palace of the Parliament, a monstrous 330,000-square-metre mansion built during the regime of former communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.