NATO: Agreement to Seek Russia Meeting

NATO: Agreement to Seek Russia Meeting

BRUSSELS (AP) -- NATO has reached "broad agreement" to seek another meeting with Russia before NATO leaders meet in Warsaw this July, the alliance's chief said Friday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman swiftly welcomed the announcement, but said all dialogue must include a respect for Russia's interests.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said at a Thursday dinner, alliance foreign ministers agreed on a "dual track approach" toward Moscow: to keep reinforcing NATO defenses against what they see as a mounting Russian threat, but also to keep channels of communication open to the Kremlin.

Stoltenberg said the ministers "all agreed in the current situation that we need a platform (like) the NATO-Russia Council to pursue transparency, predictability and to work for enhancing mechanisms for risk reduction to avoid dangerous situations, situations which can spiral out of control."

The NATO-Russia Council, created in 2002 when relations between the former Cold War foes were much better, met for the first time in nearly two years last month.

That meeting, however, failed to bridge differences between Russia and the U.S.-led alliance that have led to a sharp downturn in relations since Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

The Crimea takeover led NATO to suspend practical cooperation with Russia, but "we decided to keep channels for political dialogue open," Stoltenberg said. He said NATO officials will now "start to look into the modalities and practical arrangements" for reconvening the NATO-Russia Council.

Dmitry Peskov, Putin's spokesman, welcomed NATO's intentions.

"The Russian side has never avoided dialogue, we always have supported dialogue," he told reporters. "We believe it's the only way to tackle the problems we face. At the same time, a dialogue must be trusting and constructive and be based on respect of mutual interests, otherwise it hardly can be productive."

On Thursday, NATO invited the Balkan nation of Montenegro to become its 29th member pending formal ratification by the U.S. Senate and the parliaments of other alliance members and Montenegro. Peskov, however, said NATO's growth can only exacerbate the security situation in Europe.

"From our point of view, further expansion of NATO is a negative process," the Russian spokesman said. "This process doesn't contribute to strengthening European security, just the opposite — it's fraught with heightening tensions on the continent."

The April 20 NATO-Russian Council meeting was attended by the Russian ambassador to NATO, Alexander Grushko, and his counterparts from the alliance's member countries.

The Russian Permanent Mission to NATO had no immediate reaction to Friday's developments.

Stoltenberg spoke to reporters before a meeting Friday on how NATO and the European Union can cooperate more in facing today's security challenges, from a resurgent Russia to Islamic extremism in the Middle East and North Africa.

Twenty-two NATO nations also belong to the EU. Friday's meeting was also attended by the EU's foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, and the foreign ministers of Finland and Sweden, two neutral EU members that participate in many NATO operations.