Russia’s Lavrov-decision soon on NATO Afghan route

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia will announce soon whether it will allow NATO to deliver supplies to Afghanistan through its land and air spaces, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday.

Russia let France and Germany transport military goods to Afghanistan at the height of the 2001 military campaign which ended in the ousting of the Taliban rulers. But Moscow has been reluctant to allow a broader deal with NATO.

“In response to such requests from Brussels, our defense ministry together with the foreign ministry, are now holding negotiations and I believe the result will be known soon,” said Lavrov following U.S.-Russia talks in Moscow.

A NATO-controlled 43,000-strong U.N. force is battling the resurgent Islamist Taliban in Afghanistan.

At the weekend, NATO said it was near to a deal with Russia. A spokesman for the alliance said a deal creating a route across Russia might be announced when President Vladimir Putin attended a NATO summit in Bucharest next month.

Lavrov said Russia’s consideration of the request was in line with its support of a United Nations mandate for international forces operating in the Central Asian country to safeguard security there.

The former Soviet Union intervened in Afghanistan in 1979 but was forced out in 1989 after heavy losses inflicted by Islamist guerrillas partly armed by the West.

Lavrov urged NATO to co-operate more with the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) to combat the drugs trade, following talks in Moscow with the U.S. secretaries of state and defense, Condoleezza Rice and Robert Gates.

“This would substantially boost the efficiency of the fight against drug trafficking, with terrorist threats emanating from Afghanistan’s territory. We hope for a constructive reply to this proposal in the foreseeable future,” Lavrov said.

NATO and Russia already cooperate in training Afghan and central Asian counter-narcotics officials as part of efforts to contain Afghanistan’s huge opium trade.

NATO-Russia links have been overshadowed by disputes over a planned U.S. missile shield in central Europe and Moscow’s decision last year to freeze its compliance with a European conventional arms treaty.

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