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Russia and NATO hold high-level conference

NATO and Russia on Saturday resumed formal cooperation on broad security threats but failed to bridge major differences over Georgia in their first high-level talks since the war in the Caucasus region last year.

The deal emerged after NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said the two sides recognized it was time to crank up joint efforts against Afghan insurgents and drug trafficking, Somali piracy, terrorism and nuclear proliferation.

The Russia-NATO thaw emerged a week before a summit between United States President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in Moscow, and a summit of G8 powers in Italy.

"We have restarted our relations at a political level, we also agreed to restart the military-to-military contacts which had been frozen since last August," de Hoop Scheffer told a news conference, referring to the Russia-°?Georgia conflict.

"The NATO-Russia Council is now back in gear. We agreed not to let disagreements bring the whole train to a halt. On Georgia, there are still fundamental differences ... (But) Russia needs NATO and NATO needs Russia," he said.

"Afghanistan is clearly, also from the Russian side, a dossier where more and closer cooperation is certainly within the range of the possible," he said, and this could include counter-narcotics operations.

Sergey Lavrov, Russia's foreign minister, called the meeting "to a certain extent a positive development" and cited "very frank exchanges," alluding to differences over Georgia's status.

Lavrov repeated that Russia's recognition of the "independence" of two regions from Georgia was an irreversible "new reality" and the West should get used to it.

Russia routed Georgian troops who tried to take South Ossetia in August 2008 and has blocked an extension of an Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe peace monitoring mission in Georgia, which expires tomorrow, by insisting on a separate mandate for South Ossetia.


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