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Russia, Afghanistan Top Agenda at NATO Meeting

By Sonja Pace
05 March 2009

Foreign ministers of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) member countries are meeting Thursday in Brussels. Relations with Russia and strategies for Afghanistan top the agenda.

The meetings are informal, without a final communiqué at the end of the day. But the top issues on the table - Russia and Afghanistan - are considered crucial for cooperation within the alliance and how it moves forward in the 21st Century.

A senior U.S. official spoke of a meeting of the minds on dealing with Russia. The NATO ministers are expected to approve a resumption of high-level contacts, within the framework of the NATO-Russia Council.

NATO spokesman James Appathurai says there are many areas where NATO and Russia can cooperate, including on Afghanistan and on fighting terrorism.

"I think NATO can have, at the same time, valuable political cooperation and important practical cooperation with the Russian Federation on areas of common interest, without sacrificing our ability to express where NATO and NATO allies fundamentally disagree with the Russian Federation," he said.

NATO suspended high-level contacts in protest about Russia's military action in Georgia, last August.

Ministers are also discussing strategies on Afghanistan. This comes as the United States prepares to send 17,000 additional troops to help counter a resurgent Taliban and as the Obama Administration reviews U.S. policy toward Afghanistan.

"Secretary Clinton has already previewed she will update allies on the U.S. review - where it is, where it is going," said NATO spokesman Appathurai.

Washington will follow up Thursday's NATO discussions on Afghanistan with more talks next week, when U.S. Vice President Joe Biden travels to Brussels to meet with NATO officials - specifically about Afghanistan.

American and NATO officials are stressing that, aside from the specific issues on the table at this meeting, the alliance needs to look to the future - how it will define itself to meet challenges ahead.

In one month, NATO leaders will gather in France and Germany for a summit to mark the alliance's 60th anniversary.

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