BRUSSELS (Reuters) - NATO Tuesday agreed to gradually resume contacts with Russia that were suspended after Moscow’s military intervention in Georgia, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said.
“Allies agreed on what I would qualify as a conditional and graduated reengagement with Russia,” De Hoop Scheffer told a news conference after a meeting of the alliance’s foreign ministers.
De Hoop Scheffer said operational meetings of the NATO-Russia Council, a forum that manages the relationship, would resume informally.
But he said this did not mean NATO had changed its view that Russia had used “disproportionate” force in invading Georgia in August, or that it was acceptable for Russia to threaten to station missiles near NATO borders.
The 26 NATO allies had reaffirmed a pledge -- which has angered Russia -- that former Soviet republics Georgia and Ukraine would one day join the alliance and agreed they would assist them in that process, De Hoop Scheffer said.
The decision came hours after the 27-member European Union resumed talks on a broad-ranging partnership pact with Moscow, reflecting a broad acceptance that any attempt to isolate a key trade and energy partner would damage European interests.
The EU agreed last month that Russia had complied sufficiently with the terms of a Georgia cease-fire to permit this, while keeping the relationship under review.
European capitals had urged NATO to study resuming full contacts with Russia but Washington had been reluctant to make any early move.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said before the meeting she did not oppose “in principle” reviving contacts with Russia via the NATO-Russia Council.
But referring to Russian troops still in Georgian breakaway regions, she said NATO should be very cautious about any move on military-to-military cooperation.
Editing by Richard Balmforth
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