Brussels – NATO’s foreign ministers are set to hold the first formal talks with their Russian counterpart since last summer’s Georgia war on June 27, NATO officials said Wednesday. The 29 members of the NATO-Russia Council (NRC), NATO’s 28 and Russia’s, are to meet on the fringes of an informal meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on the Greek island of Corfu. Greece currently holds the OSCE’s presidency.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton are both due to attend the talks, which come immediately after a meeting of the foreign ministers of the world’s top eight economies (G8) in Italy, NATO sources said.
The NRC brings together NATO’s member states and Russia as equal members of a single forum. Founded in 2002, it was established to ease tensions between Russia and the West following NATO’s decision to expand into the Baltic states.
But NATO members suspended the formal operation of the NRC in August to protest at Russia’s invasion of Georgia, which aspires to eventual NATO membership.
The alliance’s foreign ministers agreed on March 5 to reopen formal NRC talks, scheduling the first ministerial meeting for May.
But on April 30 Lavrov pulled out of those talks to protest at NATO’s expulsion of two Russian diplomats on charges of spying and its decision to go ahead with a set of exercises in Georgia.
The announcement of the latest talks comes are Russia and the West are trying to boost their cooperation on issues such as nuclear disarmament.
But their relationship has been dogged by disagreements. Most recently, on May 31 Russia backed a set of parliamentary elections in the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia.
NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer condemned the vote as “not contributing to a peaceful and lasting settlement.”