NATO chief praises Russia cooperation despite "disagreements"

NATO and Russia are cooperating well on military matters, despite serious disagreements over key issues such as Georgia and the alliance's expansion, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said Friday.

In recent months, NATO and Russia "have marked regular progress in certain domains," especially short-range missile defence and the fight against terrorism in civil aviation, Scheffer said, reported dpa.

And despite "disagreements" on international issues, the defence ministers of NATO member states and Russia, which jointly form the NATO-Russia Council (NRC), "all recognize the NRC as a valuable forum for dialogue to resolve these complex political issues," he said.

NATO and Russia have recently clashed over the alliance's readiness, expressed at a summit in Bucharest in April, to take Ukraine and Georgia into the fold at an unspecified future date.

And Scheffer on June 3 sharply criticized Russia's decision to send several hundred soldiers into the Georgian breakaway province of Abkhazia, saying that it was "clearly in contravention of Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity, which NATO strongly supports."

"These forces should be withdrawn, and both Russia and Georgia should engage quickly in a high-level and open dialogue to de- escalate tensions," he said at the time.

However, his opening address to Friday's NRC meeting stressed the positive aspects of their military cooperation.

NATO and Russia established the NRC in 2002 as a way of avoiding the polarizing tensions which had characterized the Cold War.

Since its foundation, the NRC has overseen joint exercises and cooperation on issues ranging from submarine search and rescue to counter-terrorism operations in the Mediterranean.

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