- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 5, 2009

BRUSSELS — NATO foreign ministers agreed Thursday to resume formal contacts with Russia, frozen over the Georgia war last year, after an intense debate over shifting U.S. policies on ties with Moscow and missile defense in Europe.

The unanimous decision was announced by NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer at a press conference after Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s first meeting with the North Atlantic Council, the alliance’s decision-making body.

“The ministers reached agreement to formally resume the NATO-Russia Council, including at ministerial level,” Mr. Scheffer said. “Russia is a global player. Not talking to them is not an option.”

Mrs. Clinton gave assurances to former Soviet satellites that Washington will not make deals with Moscow without first consulting them, diplomats said.

“We don’t do deals with Russia over the heads of other countries,” said Daniel Fried, assistant secretary of state for European affairs.

Lithuania, a former Soviet republic, initially objected to reopening formal dialogue with Moscow, with Foreign Minister Vygaudas Usackas saying that doing so is “premature.” Along with other countries, Lithuania expressed concern about the timing of the Obama administration’s overtures to Russia, including U.S. plans for missile defense in Eastern Europe, diplomats said.

The Bush administration was determined to proceed with the plan and signed agreements with Poland and the Czech Republic to host the needed sites. But in a recent letter to his Russian counterpart, Dmitri Medvedev, President Obama suggested that the systems might not be necessary if Moscow persuades Iran to abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

That was interpreted by some former communist countries as an attempt by the U.S. to deal with Russia that might compromise their security. Mrs. Clinton sought to counter such perceptions.

“We can and must find ways to work constructively with Russia where we share areas of common interest, including helping the people of Afghanistan, arms control and nonproliferation, counter-piracy and counter-narcotics, and addressing the threats posed by Iran and North Korea,” she told her fellow ministers.

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