NATO, Russia seek common ground in Bucharest

Other News Materials 4 April 2008 14:52 (UTC +04:00)

(dpa) - NATO's leaders discussed with Russian President Vladimir Putin 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.

"Today our relations are truly multifaceted, influenced both by political realities and issues on which we differ, as well as by practical and very pragmatic common interests," said NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer at the start of the talks.

"Our meeting this morning will take stock of our commonalities. We will also seek ways to intensify the process of finding political common denominators on the issues on which we do not agree," he added.

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

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

Disagreements cover a variety of issues, including Kosovo and NATO's willingness to extend its reach eastwards.

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

The Kremlin was likely to be less pleased with Thursday's announcement that the United States and the Czech Republic had reached an agreement to site elements of a US anti-ballistic-missile system on Czech soil.

The radar in the Czech Republic, which the US says is intended to protect the West from rogue states such as Iran, will be part of any future NATO missile defence system.

The Kremlin objects to the US plan, arguing that it poses a threat to its own security and deterrent capability.

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

"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.

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

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

Under a deal that was 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.

Friday's NRC 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.

It was the first to be attended by Putin and the last by his US counterpart, George W Bush.

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