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NATO, Russia to resume high level talks

BRUSSELS, Dec 19 – NATO and Russia were to resume high-level talks Friday, four months after they were frozen over the war in Georgia, with Moscow demanding that all points of discord be raised.

"Everything has to be put on the table," Russian ambassador Dmitry Rogozin told AFP on the eve of his "confidential" informal lunch talks with NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer at alliance headquarters in Brussels.

NATO foreign ministers agreed on December 2 "on a measured and phased approach" for resuming talks in the NATO-Russia Council (NRC), which meets at ambassadorial, ministerial and head of government levels.

The talks were put on ice in August due to Russia’s war in Georgia, but technical and working-level discussions have continued.

The ministers gave Scheffer a mandate "to re-engage with Russia at the political level" and agreed to a resumption of informal discussions in the NRC, with a full return to formal talks only possible after he reports back.

Rogozin said Moscow was "ready" for an informal NATO-Russia Council to be held later — officials say this is unlikely before January at the earliest — and that its possible agenda could be discussed Friday.

"I hope the secretary general will propose dates and themes for discussion and I will see with Moscow if this is convenient, and then we will take a decision," he said.

"NATO-Russia relations are not a one-way street but the opportunity for an exchange of views," he warned, and added: "It’s up to NATO to correct its errors."

The war in Georgia brought tense NATO-Russia ties to a head.

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Russia has been angered by NATO’s open door policy in regard to former Soviet states Georgia and Ukraine.

Alliance leaders decided in April that the pair would join one day, although a fast-track approach has been ruled out for the time being.

Moscow is also vehemently opposed to independence for Kosovo, where NATO leads a peacekeeping force, and has threatened to counter the extension into Europe of a US missile shield.

NATO allies, for their part, have rejected Russia’s recognition of breakaway Georgian regions Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and have expressed concern about Moscow’s decision to freeze a major Cold War arms treaty.

They also suspect that proposals by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev for a new security pact in Europe are aimed at doing away with NATO, which Moscow fears is closing in on its borders.

Russia has called for a new, legally binding security pact to replace what it says are outdated arms control treaties from the Cold War and to help avoid crises such as the brief war in Georgia.

Rogozin said that the next NATO-Russia Council "will have to re-analyse everything that happened in August and September".

"We want an explanation as to why this council did not work at a very important moment in our relations," he said, adding that he would provide NATO with evidence of what he called Georgia’s "military aggression".

NATO’s European allies, led by France and Germany, are keen to resume contact with Russia, which is a major supplier of European natural gas and oil, but the United States refuses to reward Moscow for its actions in Georgia.

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US Ambassador Kurt Volker summed up the alliance’s dilemma Thursday.

"We want to have a dialogue with Russia, but we want Russia to act as a modern, 21st century partner for NATO," he said in a video message.


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