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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

After Debate, NATO Restores Russia Ties

APClinton speaking to Usackas on Thursday. Behind her is de Hoop Scheffer.
BRUSSELS -- NATO found agreement after intense internal debate Thursday to restore normal relations with Russia seven months after it froze ties in response to Moscow's invasion of Georgia.

"Russia is an important player, a global player, and that means that not talking to them is not an option," NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told a news conference, at which he announced the decision made by NATO foreign ministers.

It was a step forward for the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama, which is seeking to establish a broad, positive relationship with Russia after years of tensions. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, in her NATO debut, argued in favor of restoring relations by reviving the NATO-Russia Council, a forum created in 2002 to strengthen ties with Moscow, which is not a NATO member.

In her remarks to the NATO meeting, Clinton said the time had come "to explore a fresh start" with Moscow, according to a text released by her staff.

"We can and must find ways to work constructively with Russia where we share areas of common interest, including helping the people of Afghanistan, arms control and nonproliferation, counterpiracy and counternarcotics and addressing the threats posed by Iran and North Korea," she said in prepared remarks.

"We think that this is a step in the right direction. At last, common sense has triumphed," Foreign Ministry spokesman Igor Lyakin-Frolov said, Interfax reported.

De Hoop Scheffer said there was a NATO consensus that Russia must deal forthrightly with issues of concern to alliance members. He said NATO continued to strongly disagree with a number of Moscow's actions, including its recognition of the independence of Georgia's breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The revived NATO-Russia Council would be a forum where such issues could be discussed, he said.

Lithuania argued at Thursday's meeting that the Russia move required more discussion and should have awaited a NATO summit meeting April 3 in France, according to a senior U.S. official who revealed details of the private talks on condition that he not be identified. The summit will be Obama's first alliance meeting.

In public comments, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Vygaudas Usackas said it was "a bit premature" to reward Russia after the Georgia war.

NATO must find ways to manage its differences with Russia but keep the door open for membership by Ukraine and Georgia despite Moscow's opposition, Clinton told the meeting. On Friday, Clinton will meet with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Geneva.