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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia and NATO Sign New Cooperation Pact

OTTAWA -- Russian and NATO politicians on Tuesday signed a framework for cooperation between the consultative NATO Parliamentary Assembly and Russia's parliament that the head of the NATO body said would help ease Russia's suspicion of the Western military alliance.

The pact was signed by the president of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, Rafael Estrella, a Spanish socialist lawmaker, and Lyubov Sliska, leader of the Russian delegation to the assembly.

"This is a powerful sign that, especially after Sept. 11, what unites us is far stronger than what still divides us," Estrella said in a statement.

The move takes place against a backdrop of increasing cooperation between President Vladimir Putin and the West since the terrorist attacks in the United States.

Russia's parliament has backed Putin's support for the U.S. attacks in Afghanistan. Putin has also made it clear that Moscow does not see NATO as a threat to Russia, and has opened the doors to becoming a security partner. But he has not said Russia would apply for NATO membership.

Since 1991, representatives from Russia's upper and lower houses of parliament have participated in meetings of the NATO assembly, a grouping of 300 lawmakers from the 19 NATO partners. Russia is one of 17 associate countries that participate in the assembly, which meets twice a year to discuss political, technical and defense issues. Associate countries participate in debates but cannot vote.

Cooperation between the two groups was halted in March 1999 when the State Duma suspended its ties with the assembly in protest against NATO's air campaign in Kosovo against Yugoslavia.

But since February last year, after a settlement on Kosovo and the Russian-NATO relationship on strengthening security and stability in the Euro-Atlantic region, the parties resumed cooperation in the assembly.

"In the agreement we are not only speaking about achievements, there are differences of course and we will be trying to leave those differences behind as we move forward," Sliska said after the signing.

The framework lists areas of differences and cooperation between Russia and the NATO assembly. But Viktor Ozerov, a member of the Federation Council and chairman of its defense committee, said there were more areas of agreement.

"Both on paper and in life we witness more willingness to agree than to disagree," he said, adding: "The task of our state leaders including parliament deputies is to use that chance."

Among the differences is Russia's opposition to NATO actions in Yugoslavia that it says violated international law and were a sign of NATO's willingness to use force unilaterally.

The pact also notes Russia's opposition to NATO enlargement to include Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

Areas on cooperation at the parliamentary level include international terrorism, organized crime; search and rescue; proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; and southeast Europe, particularly joint peacekeeping in Bosnia and Kosovo.