Healing of NATO-Russia Ties Meets Resistance

BRUSSELS -- The United States and Russia have raised doubts about prospects of a fast return to normal ties between NATO and Russia after the Georgian war, despite a European move to restart partnership talks next month.

The 26-nation military alliance scaled back its cooperation with Russia after the August conflict over South Ossetia, declaring that "business as usual" was impossible after the Russian incursion.

Despite differences over the extent to which Russia has complied with a cease-fire accord in Georgia, European nations -- most of them NATO members -- have agreed to restart talks on an EU-Russia political and economic pact on Dec. 2.

"We understand there is a lot of interest in NATO in resuming dialogue and contacts with Russia, and that is important, and we support that," U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Dan Fried said Friday in Brussels.

"It is difficult for us to go back to business as usual, since the Russian military did actually attack another country," he said. "It's hard when you also have Russian troops in another country against its will."

Fried acknowledged "modest progress" at talks between Russian and Georgian officials in Geneva last week, but said that Moscow had not fully complied with the cease-fire. He also raised concerns that observers were not getting proper access to South Ossetia.

NATO foreign ministers are to meet in Brussels at the beginning of December to review the decision to suspend high-level meetings of the NATO-Russia Council, the main forum for their ties.

In Washington, the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergei Kislyak, also sounded skeptical about resuming normal NATO-Russia ties, saying it was deplorable that NATO had scaled back cooperation when a forum was needed to discuss the Georgian war.

"We certainly would like to see the NATO-Russia Council working but not the way it has so far. It failed completely during this test," said Kislyak, a former Russian ambassador to NATO. "The only mechanism that we had been creating for maintaining peace and security was blocked completely."

Kislyak, who took up his post in Washington in September, said Russia remains interested in working with NATO on projects that will increase mutual security.

But "we are not going to come and to beg for cooperation. It is not us who suspended it," he said at The Nixon Center, a think tank.

U.S. NATO Ambassador Kurt Volker was wary of prospects of restarting the forum, which in the past has yielded modest cooperation pacts in areas from counter-terrorism to the Afghanistan conflict.

"The NATO-Russia Council was based on the idea that we had shared principles and values ... . So that's why we don't want to just go back to where we were," he said in Brussels.