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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin, Blair Mull Closer NATO Ties

ReutersPrime Minister Blair chatting with President Putin and his wife, Lyudmila, on Friday at Blair's country residence, Chequers.
HALTON, England -- Relations between Russia and the West have been transformed by their joint campaign against terrorism in the months since Sept. 11, Prime Minister Tony Blair said Friday.

Speaking after talks with President Vladimir Putin, Blair said Russia's "key role" in the international coalition had led the two countries to share intelligence in an "unprecedentedly close" manner.

The two leaders told reporters at the Halton airforce base near Blair's country home in Buckinghamshire that they had agreed to establish a joint working group on terrorism.

"I think the whole perception of Russia, in Europe and the West, has been transformed," Blair said. Russia, he added, is "an ever stronger player on the world stage."

Putin agreed that the past year had marked "a turning point in the destiny of the world."

"We not only understood the common threat that terrorism poses, we understood that we must fight it together. Our vision of international affairs is fully in line," he said.

This is the fifth meeting between the two leaders this year and aides say they have developed a casual first name relationship. They last met Oct. 4 when Blair flew to Moscow to garner Russian support for the campaign in Afghanistan.

The war on terrorism has given Russia and the West new common cause, but tensions remain. Russia opposed NATO's intention to bring in new members from eastern Europe, and American plans for missile defense.

However, the two leaders were keen to stress their common vision. Blair offered Britain's "strong support" for Russia's petition to join the World Trade Organization as soon as possible. He hailed the Russian leader's economic reforms and the growth of the Russian economy

Blair also said broad agreement had been reached on a new relationship between Russia and the NATO alliance. The British premier has proposed creating a close new partnership between Russia and NATO, under the auspices of the Russia-North Atlantic Council. Under the plan the council would serve as the centerpiece of a new security relationship and could eventually lead to Russia-NATO military cooperation in areas like peacekeeping.

Such a relationship would have been "frankly unthinkable a few years ago," Blair said.

Even Russia's opposition to the United States' recent decision to pull out of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty that governs missile defenses was played down.

"We are not going to over-dramatize the situation," said Putin, "and I hope the dialogue with all our partners will continue."

Blair was equally diplomatic about Russia's fight against rebels in Chechnya. He said they had discussed the issue, but added it was "important to remember that whatever causes people have, terrorism is not the way to pursue it."

Amnesty International had earlier called on Blair to "remind Putin of Russia's obligations to uphold international human rights standards." In a statement, Amnesty said international criticism of "human rights" violations by the Russian military had been muted in exchange for Russian approval of the campaign in Afghanistan and the war on terrorism.

Putin and his wife Lyudmila stayed overnight at Blair's country home, 64 kilometers northwest of London, before flying out of Britain on Saturday.