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NATO, Russian Officials Praise New Spirit Of Co-operation
May 13, 2003

MOSCOW (AP)--Top North Atlantic Treaty Organization and Russian officials Tuesday praised the spirit of co-operation between Moscow and the western alliance as the newly formed NATO-Russia Council met for the first time in the Russian capital.

"We have achieved important practical results," NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson said in his opening address to the council. "NATO members have benefited from the experience of our Russian colleagues."

Along with the mutual praise, however, Russian officials reaffirmed Moscow's long-standing concerns about the possible deployment of NATO forces in new NATO members states including former Soviet republics on its borders and said the issue could damage arms control efforts.

Russia has criticized NATO members for failing to ratify the modified Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, which limits the numbers of warplanes, tanks and other heavy non-nuclear weapons in Europe. The breakup of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia and the subsequent spread of regional conflicts prompted the drafting of an amended version of the 1990 treaty, which was signed in Istanbul in November 1999.

Russia has also insisted new NATO members join the CFE treaty to prevent a military buildup near its borders.

"We are concerned about the deceleration of the introduction of the adapted version of the CFE treaty and discussions of limitations on military deployment on the territories of new NATO members," Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told the joint council Tuesday.

"If we fail to reach agreement...a dangerous gap may emerge between new geopolitical and military realities and the existing system of international arms control."

Robertson later told a news conference that prospective new alliance members had pledged to sign up to the treaty once it's open for signing.

A senior U.S. diplomat sought to downplay the differences over the treaty, but said Russia has yet to fulfill its own obligations on troop withdrawals from the former Soviet republics of Georgia and Moldova.

Still, the mood at the council meeting was overwhelmingly positive, and Ivanov said the new Russia-NATO relationship was "becoming one of the pillars of the international security system."

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said NATO-Russian co-operation on theater missile defense and nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction was intensifying, and said NATO's promise to help Russia eliminate its stockpiles of anti-personnel mines opened up a new prospective field for joint work.

NATO and Russia set up the joint council last May to make decisions on counterterrorism, nonproliferation, missile defense, peacekeeping, search-and-rescue at sea and other issues.

Closer ties have helped soothe Russia's concerns about the alliance's expansion, which had previously caused fervent Kremlin protests. Russia's muted reaction to NATO's decision last fall to invite seven nations, including the three former Soviet republics in the Baltics, to join contrasted sharply with vociferous protests against the first wave of NATO expansion in 1999.

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