- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 28, 2009

CORFU, Greece | NATO and Russia agreed to resume military ties Saturday in their first high-level meeting since Russia’s war with Georgia disrupted their relations 10 months ago.

NATO’s outgoing secretary-general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, announced that the NATO-Russia Council, a panel set up in 2002 to improve ties between the former Cold War rivals, was operational again.

“It was my ambition to leave to my successor an NRC that is up and running,” said Mr. de Hoop Scheffer, whose term as secretary-general ends Aug. 1.

“After the meeting which just ended, I have achieved that aim. Because there was clearly a sense in that meeting that the NRC, which had been in neutral … is now back in gear,” he said. “We also agreed to restart the military to military contacts.”

Relations between the alliance and the Russian military were frozen after the five-day Georgian war in August. Although political ties have thawed considerably over the past five months, no formal military contacts had been made since then.

The resumption of talks means NATO and Russia can cooperate on a range of security issues, including Afghanistan and efforts to fight piracy, terrorism and the spread of nuclear weapons.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met his counterparts from NATO’s 28 member nations on the western Greek island of Corfu ahead of a broader informal meeting of ministers from the 56-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Mr. de Hoop Scheffer described the talks as “open and constructive, which means we did not try to paper over our differences on Georgia, for example. But we agreed not to allow those agreements to bring the NRC to a halt.”

He said the renewed military contacts would involve meetings of the chiefs of staff of Russia and NATO countries.

The meeting in Corfu, which was held as President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev prepare for a summit next week, reflected the trend toward improved relations with Russia.

Mr. de Hoop Scheffer said Mr. Lavrov and the other ministers raised the issue of Georgia extensively, and he said there continued to be “fundamental differences on the territorial integrity of Georgia.”

Mr. Lavrov said that “overall I view this meeting as very useful.”

“We had a very frank discussion, at the center stage of which was the need on how to work together in the future,” Mr. Lavrov said.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Greek counterpart Costas Karamanlis were the only heads of government to attend the conference.

Despite last year’s disruption of ties with NATO, Russia has continued cooperating with individual NATO nations such as the U.S., France and Germany by allowing them to use Russia’s rail network and aerial corridors to resupply international forces in Afghanistan, and its navy has worked with NATO warships on their joint anti-piracy patrols.

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