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Russia-Georgia Row Overshadows NATO Meeting


NATO leaders meeting in Slovenia have agreed to increase the alliance's presence in Afghanistan. But the two-day gathering in the former Yugoslav republic was overshadowed by tensions between Russia and neighbor Georgia, which seeks closer ties with NATO.

The final day of the NATO meeting in Slovenia's coastal resort of Portoroz ended Friday with a row resembling the Cold-War era.

Russia, which was invited as a non-NATO member, accused Georgia of seeking a military solution to conflicts in two pro-Russian breakaway provinces.

A furious Sergei Ivanov, Russia's defense minister, said Georgians were receiving illegal weapons from some NATO countries so they could eventually attack the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

"It's absolutely clear that Georgia has chosen a military way to solve the problems in Abkhazia and South Ossetia," he said.

Minister Ivanov accused Georgia of receiving weapons originally supplied by the former Soviet Union to its Eastern European allies. He said the one-time allies of the Soviet Union had no right to give the weapons to any other country. Ivanov did not mention names, but former Soviet-satellite states who joined NATO include Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and, more recently, the Baltics and Bulgaria, Romania and Slovenia.

Tensions between Moscow and Tbilisi increased in recent days after Georgia brought espionage charges against four detained military officers from Russia. Moscow has also been concerned about Georgia's attempt to become a member of NATO.

The Russian-Georgian row overshadowed progress made in other fields during the conference, including an agreement that extends NATO operations throughout Afghanistan and transfers to the alliance's command about 10,000 U.S. troops in the eastern part of the country.

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer suggested the move was needed to more effectively battle militants related to the former Taleban regime and al-Qaida.

"For the sake of the Afghan people and indeed all of us, security must prevail to allow reconstruction and development to proceed. Opposing forces must be dealt with in a conclusive way. Afghanistan should never again become a launching pad for international terrorism."

The 26 NATO ministers attending the gathering in Slovenia also reviewed plans to set up a NATO Response Force for quick deployment on peacekeeping and counter-terror operations worldwide.

NATO's so-called "transformation" from an anti-Soviet Cold War military alliance into a modern fighting machine will top the agenda at a summit in Riga at the end of November.

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