NATO leaders agree to resume direct talks with Russia

By Xinhua,

Strasbourg (France) : The leaders of NATO member states have agreed to relaunch talks with Russia in the framework of the NATO-Russia Council (NRC), suspended by the alliance unilaterally after the Russia-Georgia military conflict.

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“Despite our current disagreements, Russia is of particular importance to us as a partner and neighbor,” they said in a declaration issued at a two-day summit marking the 60th anniversary of the bloc here Saturday.

They said that areas of common interest between NATO and Russia lie in the stabilisation of Afghanistan, efforts toward arms control and disarmament, the fight against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, anti-terrorism and fighting drugs- trafficking and anti-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia.

The leaders said that they would “assess possibilities for making (the NRC) a more efficient and valuable instrument for our political dialogue and practical cooperation”.

“We want to step up practical cooperation in the NRC,” NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told a press conference after the summit.

“We think this relationship can deliver more than it has until now, if all parties take the necessary steps,” he added.

But at the same time, NATO said that cooperation with Russia did not mean compromise of its core principles, criticising “the build-up of Russia’s military presence” in Georgia’s breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia and urging for full withdrawal of Russian troops from the two regions.

The NRC was established in 2002 as a forum for direct dialogue between the NATO and Moscow and was suspended following the Russia- Georgia military conflict in August 2008.