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    NATO-RUSSIA COUNCIL GATHERS FOR SESSION FOLLOWING ACCESSION OF SEVEN NEW STATES

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    BRUSSELS, APRIL 2, 2004, RIA NOVOSTI - The Russia-NATO Council has gathered for a session in the Belgian capital. This is the Council's first meeting since seven new nations joined NATO earlier this week, and it will be held in the 26 + 1 format instead of the previous 19 + 1.

    Latvia, Lithuania Estonia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Romania and Bulgaria are now full-fledged members of the trans-Atlantic alliance, and their accession is expected to dominate the agenda of the NATO-Russia Council's current session.

    The Council is expected to discuss how the enlarged alliance can contribute to the enhancement of European security and how its relations with Moscow will now be built, said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavorov.

    The Russian government has repeatedly pointed out that the eastward expansion of NATO affects Russia's political, economic and military interests. A matter of particular concern to Moscow is the fact that four of the newcomers (the three Baltic states and Slovenia) are not parties to the adapted Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty. But according to s Lavrov, there are grounds to believe that the issue will be resolved at the current session of the NATO-Russia Council.

    No decision has yet been made as to how the new members' treaty obligations will be consolidated-in a joint statement or by exchange of letters.

    The situation in Kosovo will also figure prominently on the agenda. Lavrov and his NATO counterparts will discuss what the global community can do to prevent escalation of violence in that province of Serbia. In the Russian minister's view, it is highly important now to carry on with efforts to disarm insurgent groups operating in Kosovo and to persuade Albanian leaders to step up their fight against extremist forces.

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