NATO-Russia foreign ministers meet

Other News Materials 26 June 2009 18:48 (UTC +04:00)

Foreign ministers of NATO and Russia meet on Saturday for the first time since last year's war between Russia and Georgia, which caused the alliance to freeze ties with the Kremlin, AP reported.

Relations have been improving as President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev prepare to hold a summit. The meeting is expected to yield an agreement to fully and formally restart military cooperation in areas of shared interests such as Afghanistan, anti-piracy and counterterrorism.

"We expect the meeting to go well, there will be no surprises," Igor Semenenko, counselor at the Russian mission to NATO said Friday.

NATO cut off the ties last August, when Russian forces invaded Georgia after Tbilisi's troops attacked its breakaway province of South Ossetia.

Moscow blamed Georgia for provoking the brief conflict, while the United States and NATO criticized Russia for its "disproportionate" response.

Relations remained frozen for several months. They began to improve slowly after Obama took office but cooperation has occurred only on an ad-hoc basis through meetings of NATO ambassadors with Russia's envoy to the NATO-Russia Council, a panel set up in 2002 to improve cooperation between the former Cold War foes.

On the military side, Russia has cooperated with the alliance in naval operations off the Somali coast, where their warships contribute to the international anti-piracy patrols, and in the war in Afghanistan.

The Corfu meeting, officials said, will formally mark the return to normal cooperation.

Moscow has already invited the alliance to use Russia's rail network to resupply its forces in Afghanistan, after attacks on transport convoys in Pakistan by Taliban forces raised concerns about the security of NATO's main overland logistics route. The United States, Germany and France already have taken advantage of that offer.

Officials expect Saturday's meeting to yield a date for talks between defense ministers and chiefs of staff to discuss specific aspects of military cooperation.

"There is every intention by all sides to have a concrete meeting that will allow relations to go forward on several fronts," said a NATO official, who asked not to be named in line with standing regulations.

The official said participants would also address contentious issues such as Georgia and a key European arms-control treaty, "although none of these is seen as an obstacle to improving relations."

The talks in Corfu come just two weeks ahead of Obama's visit to Moscow next month. But U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was expected to meet with her Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, was forced to cancel plans to travel the Corfu after she fell and broke her elbow at the State Department. Deputy Secretary of States James Steinberg will replace her.

The NATO-Russia meeting will precede a meeting on Sunday of foreign ministers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, whose rotating chairmanship Greece currently holds.

Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis said this week she anticipated a positive atmosphere for both the OSCE and NATO-Russia talks.

Bakoyannis said the ministers would "brainstorm" a proposal by Moscow to hold a summit to discuss all security issues affecting Europe.

This would encompass leaders of NATO, the European Union, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and two groups of former Soviet republics - the Commonwealth of Independent States and Collective Security Treaty Organization.