Russia ready to fix ties with NATO - Lavrov - 2

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Russia is ready to mend relations with NATO, the Russian foreign minister said Wednesday, linking any improvement in ties to a return to the founding principles of the NATO-Russia Council.
(Adds Appathurai statement in para 7)

MOSCOW, February 11 (RIA Novosti) - Russia is ready to mend relations with NATO, the Russian foreign minister said Wednesday, linking any improvement in ties to a return to the founding principles of the NATO-Russia Council.

Russia's relations with NATO have deteriorated over the military alliance's ongoing eastward expansion and more recently its condemnation of Russian military intervention in Georgia following an attack on South Ossetia by Georgian forces last August.

"The main thing is that relations between Russia and NATO should get back on track. They went off track when in the middle of Georgia's attack on South Ossetia our proposal on the convening of an extraordinary session of the Russia-NATO Council was blocked by one of the alliance's members. We need to fix these relations, and we are ready for this," Sergei Lavrov told journalists after a meeting with top EU foreign policy officials in Moscow.

He noted however that normal relations would only be possible on the basis of a return to "the principles on which the NATO-Russia Founding Act was based, and to the documents that gave life to the Russia-NATO Council."

"It is written very clearly [in these documents] that participation in the Russia-NATO Council is on a national basis, and not 26 against one, and that we respect the principles of the indivisibility of security, in line with which no one should ensure its own security at the expense of others' security," Lavrov said.

"We are ready, as President [Dmitry] Medvedev has said recently, for the closest and widest possible cooperation on Afghanistan. Non-military transit cargoes have already been delivered in the framework of our agreement with NATO," he said.

NATO spokesman James Appathurai said Wednesday that NATO welcomed Lavrov's statement, calling it "a good sign of goodwill."

Russia has been supportive of NATO's operations in Afghanistan, but the alliance's work in the troubled country has been threatened by the proposed closure of a major U.S. airbase in the north of Kyrgyzstan.

Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev announced plans to close down a U.S. base at Manas, used to support NATO operations in nearby Afghanistan since 2001, after talks on February 3 in Moscow, where he secured substantial financial aid from Russia.

The Central Asian state's prime minister has denied that the decision to close the airbase was linked to the deals, under which Russia will write off Kyrgyzstan's $180 million debt and grant the country a $2 billion soft loan and $150 million in financial aid.

Russia, which also runs a military base in Kyrgyzstan, has also denied that the closure is linked to the loan, and has pledged to continue cooperation with Washington on Afghanistan after the base is closed.

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