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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

NATO Wants Formal Meeting With Russia

BRUSSELS -- NATO will aim for a high-level meeting with Russia soon if alliance ministers agree Thursday to resume formal ties with Moscow, a NATO spokesman said Wednesday.

NATO diplomats said alliance foreign ministers are expected to announce at a meeting in Brussels a decision to move back to formal ties suspended after Russia's incursion into Georgia last August. NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer backed such a move, the spokesman said.

"There are clear areas where NATO and Russia need to engage more fully -- on Afghanistan, terrorism and in other areas," James Appathurai said at a news conference.

He said a formal ambassadorial level meeting of the NATO-Russia Council could happen "very, very quickly."

"The sense around the NATO table ... is that they would wish to hold, if they decide to move forward in this way, a ministerial level meeting sooner rather than later," he said.

Appathurai stressed that a decision to re-engage with Russia would not imply any diminishment of NATO's condemnation of Russia's Georgian incursion and its possible decision to build bases on Georgian territory.

Russia's ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, said he expected a formal ambassadorial meeting this month and that a meeting of defense or foreign ministers could be held in May or June, RIA-Novosti reported.

He said the "period of estrangement" in Russia-NATO relations was "largely behind us."

The NATO meeting will be the first attended by Hillary Clinton as U.S. secretary of state. She is to travel to meet with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Geneva on Friday.

Under former President George W. Bush, the U.S. administration spearheaded NATO's suspension of formal dialogue with Russia after Moscow's incursion into Georgia last August, but President Barack Obama's White House has made it clear that it wants to turn over a new page with Moscow.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden flagged a change of tack last month, saying it was time to hit the "reset" button to halt the slide in relations with Russia.

U.S. and NATO officials now emphasize shared interests with Moscow, including the struggle against Islamist militancy in Afghanistan and concerns about Iran's nuclear plans.

Russia set the tone this week by allowing a supply cargo for U.S. forces in Afghanistan through its territory.

U.S. officials have stressed that Washington is not burying its problems with Moscow.

Biden said last month Washington would not recognize Russian spheres of influence or independence of two Russian-backed breakaway Georgian regions, South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

He also said European countries had a right to seek membership in alliances such as NATO, referring to former Soviet states Ukraine and Georgia, which have been promised eventual alliance membership -- something that has incensed Moscow.