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Afghanistan, US-Russia Relations to Top Clinton Talks With North Atlantic Council


U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Brussels where she will attend a ministerial meeting of the North Atlantic Council, NATO's political and decision-making body Thursday. Afghanistan and relations with Russia are expected to figure prominently in the discussions.

Hillary Clinton arrived here from three days of talks in the Middle East. When she meets with her NATO member counterparts, the focus will shift somewhat - from quelling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to dealing with Afghanistan and managing relations with Russia.

NATO spokesman James Appathurai says alliance ministers want to hear U.S. views on those issues.

"One is Afghanistan - the future of the U.S. engagement and how that influences and is influenced by NATO's engagement," he said. "And second is Russia - where the United States has a very important bilateral relationship with Russia that goes beyond the prism of NATO, but is influenced by and influences the NATO relationship with Russia as well."

NATO ministers are expected to endorse the resumption of formal, high-level contacts within the framework of the NATO-Russia Council.

NATO spokesman Appathurai says that could take place soon, although no specific date has been set.

"The sense around the NATO table anyway, and this would depend very much on the Russian Federation, is that they would wish to hold - if they decide to move forward in this way - a ministerial level meeting sooner rather than later," he said.

Such contacts were suspended last August amid NATO's condemnation of Russia's use of overwhelming military force in its war with Georgia and its recognition of the breakaway Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent entities.

This is Hillary Clinton's first visit to Brussels since she became secretary of state. A senior U.S. official said the United States wants to re-energize the Atlantic alliance and build common strategies with its European allies. The NATO meeting is seen as a good opportunity to do that.

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