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    NATO-RUSSIA RELATIONS ARE BETTER NOW THAN EVER BEFORE - SCHEFFER

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    MOSCOW/BRUSSELS, April 8 (RIA Novosti). NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has a positive view of NATO-Russia relations. I note with satisfaction that our relations are better today than ever before, he said in a RIA interview. In his words, the creation of the NATO-Russia Council at the Rome summit in May 2002 gave the sides a chance to work as equal partners in areas of mutual interest.

    The creation of the Council served as the recognition of the fact that the NATO countries have more things in common with Russia than division lines, stressed the secretary general. Modern threats disregard borders and hence we should abandon the rivalry of the past in order to join forces in effective reaction to these threats. We have an impressive amount of practical co-operation projects in the struggle against terrorism, in civilian crisis situations, and in the reform of our defences.

    One example of such co-operation was the joint command post exercise on theatre ballistic missile defence systems, held under the Council's auspices in Colorado Springs, USA, last March.

    We have also reached agreement on the conditions of taking political decisions with regard to future NATO-Russia peacekeeping operations, said Mr Scheffer. In his words, the April 2 session of the Council in Brussels, attended by 27 foreign ministers, showed that the sides are committed to the development of their co-operation.

    Replying to a RIA question about Russia-NATO interaction in the fight against terrorism, Mr Scheffer said the struggle had become the catalyst of the creation of the NATO-Russia Council. The tragic events in Madrid, Tashkent and other regions are the grim reminder of the need to step up our efforts in this sphere, and the foreign ministers confirmed this intention at the latest session of the NATO-Russia Council, said the bloc's secretary general.

    He pointed out that terrorism as a multifaceted threat calls for taking adequate comprehensive resistance measures. We have developed exchange of intelligence information among Council members, said Mr Scheffer. We have pooled efforts to overcome the consequences of terrorist attacks and are developing effective co-operation with Russia's Emergencies Ministry.

    We have launched an ambitious programme of co-operation in aerospace control, which is designed, in part, to prevent a repetition of the September 11, 2001 scenario in the USA, said the secretary general. We are also developing capabilities and compatibility in many other spheres in order to add to the interaction possibilities in the fight against terror.

    Besides, the NATO countries and Russia are pondering the possibility of acting together in Afghanistan, said Mr Scheffer. Russia has offered the international peacekeeping group in Afghanistan assistance in the form of transit routes and an air linkup.

    In the opinion of the NATO head, we should also analyse co-operation possibilities in the Mediterranean, where NATO is successfully holding naval operations designed to ensure protection from terrorists and preclude the transportation of weapons of mass destruction.

    Mr Scheffer also said that the conference on the role of the military in combating terrorism, held by the Council in Norfolk, USA, was highly fruitful in that it generated ideas of practical co-operation, awareness of available capabilities, and suggested ways of using the military component in the struggle against terrorism.

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