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NATO Strengthens Ties With Russia

After concluding a deal strengthening ties with Russia, NATO foreign ministers reached out Wednesday to other former Soviet states in an effort to stabilize the volatile Caucasus and Central Asian regions.

Secretary-General George Robertson welcomed vigorous efforts to strengthen and establish relationships in the region in the face of the common terror threat as an important extension of NATO's 53-year alliance.

"North America, Europe and Central Asia are now part of a political community that is unprecedented in its breadth, in its inclusiveness and in its capacity to work together," Robertson said on the last day of a NATO foreign ministers' meeting in the Icelandic capital.

Fostering those relationships, NATO foreign ministers met with 46 nations, many from the old Soviet sphere of influence, to assess closer cooperation in the face of shared threats. They also met with 10 eastern European candidates hoping to receive an invitation to join during a special summit in Prague in November.

And on the sidelines, the foreign ministers Turkey, Azerbaijan and Armenia met for the first time, acknowledging the importance of resolving regional conflicts to enhance stability. They pledged further talks.

Addressing a meeting of the 19 alliance members, 10 candidate nations and 17 other countries ranging from Albania to Ireland and Uzbekistan, Robertson urged the foreign ministers not to squander the unprecedented sense of common purpose that has prevailed since the Sept. 11 terror attacks in the United States.

"In the face of new threats, one of our strongest weapons has been our new relationships," he said.

Indeed, a spirit of solidarity pervaded the two days of meetings.

Declaring the Cold War over, Secretary of State Colin Powell and his NATO nation counterparts forged a new partnership to fight terrorism, control arms and manage crises in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.

Their agreement to set up a NATO-Russia Council came a day after Washington and Moscow announced a pact to slash their strategic nuclear arsenals by two-thirds, and on the same day as the U.N. Security Council, ending an 18-month standoff between Russia and the West, adopted a major overhaul of sanctions against Iraq.

Closing out the conference, Ukraine welcomed the landmark NATO-Russia agreement to establish a council to combat common security threats. It will be signed by U.S. President George W. Bush, his NATO counterparts and Russian President Vladimir Putin during a summit near Rome on May 28.

"It was a good day for NATO, at last," said one diplomat.

The transatlantic alliance's continued relevance has been questioned in recent months because it was sidelined in the U.S.-led war on terrorism, with Washington calling on individual allies for limited help in its military campaign in Afghanistan.

"It creates a new favorable situation for my country and for other countries," Ukrainian Foreign Minister Anatoly Zlenko told reporters after meeting with Robertson.

"I hope the strengthening of the relationship between Russia and NATO will strengthen the general security in this region," said Zlenko.

He said NATO and Ukraine, which is part of NATO's Partnership for Peace program but is not a candidate for membership, would continue to seek new areas for cooperation.

Zlenko also met earlier with Powell.

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