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    SCHEFFER HOPES PUTIN WILL ATTEND NATO SUMMIT IN ISTANBUL

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    MOSCOW, April 8 (RIA Novosti) - NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer sees his ambitious task in developing closer partner relations with Russia, as he said at the Thursday press conference in Moscow. He pointed out that much has been done and more is being done within the framework of the NATO-Russia Council.

    He also expressed the hope that President Vladimir Putin would accept his invitation to attend the Istanbul summit of the alliance set for July 2004.

    Mr Scheffer said the NATO expansion was not launched to damage Russia's interests in any way. The countries that have joined the alliance do not plan to house new military infrastructures or otherwise affect the interests of Russia.

    The NATO Secretary General recalled that Moscow and the bloc have accumulated a wealth of practical experience of joint operation, in particular in the struggle against international terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. He also some positively about cooperation in the sphere of transit. Moscow and Brussels have agreements on the air transit to Afghanistan over Russian territory, he said, and are currently discussing ground transit.

    The return of Russian peacekeepers to Kosovo is not on the agenda, Mr Scheffer said in reply to a question. He noted that he and Russia's Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov discussed the concern of Russia and the international community concerning the outbreak of ethnic violence in the province.

    Mr Scheffer also called on Moscow and Tbilisi to launch talks on the withdrawal of Russian military bases from Georgia without delay. He said the issue had been recently discussed with Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili in Brussels.

    The NATO head said Saakashvili appointed chief of the republican delegation for the talks on the withdrawal of Russian troops and, as far as he knows, Russia was "selecting delegation members," too.

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