NATO Warns Russia That Ties Are at Risk

BRUSSELS -- NATO allies warned Russia on Tuesday that the alliance's cooperation with Moscow will depend on the pullout of troops from Georgia. They insisted that Georgia remains on track to join NATO despite Moscow's opposition.

"There can be no business as usual under present circumstances, said NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, speaking after a NATO foreign ministers' meeting, said the Western alliance "intends to support the territorial integrity, independence and sovereignty of Georgia."

Rice also cautioned Moscow not to draw new dividing lines across Europe.

"A new line in Europe where Russia somehow asserts that there are those who cannot opt for a trans-Atlantic future is unacceptable," she said.

She said the allies were united in calling on President Dmitry Medvedev to withdraw Russian combat troops from Georgia. "It is time for the Russian president to keep his word to withdraw Russian forces," Rice said.

The NATO allies also agreed to strengthen relations with Georgia by creating a special consultative body.

The aim, the foreign ministers said in a statement, was to "assist Georgia, a valued and long-standing partner of NATO, to assess the damage caused by [Russia's] military action and help restore critical services" such as its power network, airports, hospitals and other infrastructure.

U.S. officials said Washington also supports increasing training for the Georgian military.

De Hoop Scheffer said no cooperative programs with Russia were immediately canceled "but one can presume ... this issue will have to be taken into view."

He said the allies would not hold meetings of the NATO-Russia Council -- as Russia requested a week ago -- as long as Russian troops remained in Georgia.

Russia answered by saying NATO's statement was biased and accusing the alliance of trying to save a "criminal regime" in Tbilisi.

"NATO is trying to make a victim of an aggressor and whitewash a criminal regime, save a collapsing regime, and is taking a path to the rearmament of the current leaders in Georgia," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters.

Lavrov said Russia did not intend to occupy Georgian territory. He also said Russian troops could be withdrawn from Georgia in three to four days but that it would depend on how quickly Georgian troops returned to their permanent bases.

The NATO allies want Russian combat troops that entered Georgia after hostilities broke out on Aug. 7 to leave the country, meaning that Russian peacekeepers in the breakaway Georgian province of South Ossetia can remain.

NATO pledged to restate its commitment eventually to offer alliance membership to Georgia.

Two months ago, the NATO leaders withheld that at a summit in Bucharest, Romania. France and Germany had objected to such a move, wary of angering Moscow, which opposes Georgian membership in the Western alliance.

In an apparent response to the statements from the NATO membership, the Russian Navy said Tuesday that it had canceled a September visit by a United States Navy frigate to a port in the far eastern region of Kamchatka.

"At the present time it is not considered possible to accept the guided missile frigate U.S.S. Ford on a business visit," the Navy said in a statement.

The Navy said the visit had been planned for Sept. 5 to 9. The statement gave no further details about the reason for canceling the visit, and a Russian Navy spokesman declined to comment further.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, meanwhile, said Russia had agreed to allow 20 more international military monitors in and around Georgia's disputed region of South Ossetia.

Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb, the current OSCE chairman, said the plan calls for the observers to be sent immediately to the Georgian capital of Tbilisi. Georgia still must approve the plan.

The organization wants eventually to have 100 military monitors to help oversee the cease-fire, Stubb said.

"We need to open the door to get the military monitors in now," he said. Stubb was also attending the NATO meeting, though Finland is not a member of the alliance.

AP, Reuters