NATO-Russia foreign ministers to open meeting

CORFU, Greece (AP) - The foreign ministers of NATO and Russia
are set to resume formal military ties when they meet Saturday for
the first time since last year's war between Russia and Georgia.

Relations between the alliance and the Russian military were
frozen in the aftermath of that conflict. Although political ties
have thawed considerably over the past five months, there have been
no formal military contacts since the war.

Saturday's meeting between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey
Lavrov and his counterparts from NATO's 28 member nations comes as
President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev
prepare to hold a summit next month. Officials said the talks in
Corfu will reflect the trend toward improved relations.

"We expect the meeting to go well, there will be no
surprises," Igor Semenenko, counselor at the Russian mission to
NATO said.

NATO cut off the ties last August, when Russian forces invaded
Georgia after that country's troops attacked its breakaway province
of South Ossetia.

Relations on the political side began to improve after Obama
took office, as NATO ambassadors met with Russia's envoy to the
NATO-Russia Council, a panel set up in 2002 to improve cooperation
between the former Cold War foes.

On the military side, Russia cooperated with individual NATO
nations such as the U.S., France or Germany by allowing them to use
Russia's rail network to resupply international forces in
Afghanistan. The Russian navy also has worked with the warships of
various NATO nations during their joint anti-piracy patrols off the
Somali coast.

But there have been no formal military ties between the alliance
and Russia. Officials on both sides said the foreign ministers are
expected to give a go-ahead Saturday for meetings of defense
ministers and chiefs of staff that would restart military
cooperation in areas of shared interests.

Likely to be discussed are contentious issues such as Georgia
and a key European arms-control treaty, but none of them is seen as
an obstacle to improving relations.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was expected
to meet with Lavrov in Corfu, was forced to cancel those plans
after she fell and broke her elbow at the State Department. Deputy
Secretary of States James Steinberg will replace her.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who has been active in
behind-the-scenes efforts to overcome lingering tensions, will be
the only head of government attending the meeting apart from the
host country's Costas Karamanlis.

The NATO-Russia meeting will be followed Sunday by a meeting of
foreign ministers from the Organization for Security and
Cooperation in Europe, whose rotating chairmanship Greece currently
holds.

Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis said this week she
anticipated a positive atmosphere for both the OSCE and NATO-Russia
talks. She said the ministers would "brainstorm" a proposal by
Russia to hold a summit to discuss all security issues affecting
Europe.


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