Tue, Jul 21, 2009 - Page 6 News List

Incoming head of NATO hopes to reassure Russia

AFP , PARIS

Incoming NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on Sunday he would soon travel to Moscow to reassure Russia that the Western alliance was “not opposed” to it and wanted to improve ties.

Relations between NATO and Russia hit a post-Cold War low after Moscow’s brief war last year against Georgia over its separatist South Ossetia region.

Georgia is seeking to join the alliance, but Moscow is deeply suspicious of NATO’s expansion eastward.

“I want to focus on improving the relationship between NATO and Russia,” Rasmussen, who is on holiday in the south of France, said in an interview with the newspaper Midi Libre to appear yesterday.

“We decided last month to relaunch the activities of the special NATO-Russia Council,” he said.

“For strategic reasons we need close cooperation, especially in the fight against terrorism. Russia is very much exposed [to it]. It must not consider NATO as an enemy. NATO is not opposed to Russia,” he said.

Rasmussen said NATO “must of course insist that Russia respect neighbors like Georgia, but we also share security concerns: The fight against terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, Afghanistan, etc.”

He rejected a statement by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in May on the perceived “threat” by NATO and Washington’s foreign policy, saying: “This is not true. But we must work hard to have good relations. And I hope that I will visit Moscow soon.”

Russia held major war games near the Georgian border in last month and early this month, just over a month after NATO and Georgia carried out maneuvers in the former Soviet republic wedged between the Caucasus and the Black Sea.

Moscow holds that the war games contradicted a ceasefire deal signed after the August conflict and risk adding to instability in the region.

The Russian maneuvers ended on July 6, the day US President Barack Obama arrived in Moscow for official talks.

Rasmussen, a former Danish prime minister, will succeed Jaap de Hoop Scheffer of the Netherlands on Aug. 1.

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