NATO Will Resume Top-Level Contacts

BRUSSELS -- NATO said Monday that it would resume within weeks top-level contacts with Russia frozen because of last year's Russia-Georgia war, while Russia said it saw no obstacle to restoring full ties as early as next month.

NATO spokesman James Appathurai said after a first meeting between Russia's NATO envoy, Dmitry Rogozin, and the 26 NATO ambassadors since the August war that the alliance was not dwelling on the past but rather looking to the future.

"There were no recriminations from any of the ambassadors, and they are all looking forward to the next step, which is the secretary-general's engagement at the political level with the Russian leadership in coming weeks," Appathurai said.

The contact could be between NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov at a Munich conference on Feb. 6, RIA-Novosti reported. Appathurai could not confirm this, but said, "I wouldn't exclude it."

Rogozin said he saw no obstacle to the restoration of full ties with NATO as early as next month and that progress toward this could come at Munich.

"The prospect of a quick resumption of relations is now fully open. ... I don't exclude that this would take place as early as the second half of February," he said.

The ambassador-level NATO-Russia Council, the principal forum for cooperation between Moscow and the alliance, was suspended in August after NATO condemned Russia's actions during its war with Georgia as disproportionate.

NATO foreign ministers agreed last month on a gradual resumption of contacts, stressing areas of mutual interest, including cooperation in the fight against Islamist militancy.

Appathurai said there had been a particular focus on Monday on cooperation in Afghanistan.

"It was a meeting with a very good, very positive spirit," he said. "It was not backward-looking ... but focused on what can be done together in future."

Last week, Rogozin made an explicit link between the restoration of ties and giving the alliance transit routes across Russia to ship supplies into Afghanistan, where a NATO-led force is fighting militants.

Alliance officials have said full normalization of ties will require a further political decision by member states, whose foreign ministers will meet in mid-February.

"Everything was very constructive, and we did not hit any sharp snags in our talks," Rogozin said. "We discussed everything, including our points of disagreement, such as the reasons for and circumstances surrounding the conflict in the North Caucasus."