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NATO Secretary-General Confident After Talks With Russian Defense Minister - 2003-10-09

NATO Secretary-General George Robertson says Russia regards the alliance not as an offensive military organization, but as a partner. The remarks came during a meeting of NATO defense ministers in the U.S. state of Colorado.

On the final day of their two-day meeting NATO officials discussed with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov a recent statement released by his country's defense ministry.

The statement said Russia may undergo a radical reconstruction of military planning, including changes in nuclear strategy, if NATO retains what Moscow sees as its "offensive military doctrine."

But NATO Secretary-General George Robertson says, after talking with the Russian defense minister, he does not believe the statement is an accurate reflection of the Russian position. Mr. Robertson says the Russian defense minister told him that he regards NATO as a partner.

"He, himself, this morning personally said that these reports are not accurate," he stressed. "They don't regard NATO as being an offensive organization. They regard NATO as being a partner to Russia."

In fact, according to Mr. Robertson, discussions are under way to establish liaison offices between NATO and Russia. "One of the things that we were discussing today was reciprocity, [having] military liaison missions in NATO and in Moscow," he said. "So it doesn't seem to me to be very accurate for anybody in Russia to be saying NATO was aggressive or offensive or anti-Russian. We are actually down to that level of detail in terms of military-to-military cooperation."

NATO members are seeking to improve relations with Moscow as part of the effort to reposition the alliance to tackle terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

Mr. Robertson also said NATO ministers discussed the alliance's efforts to expand its peacekeeping role in Afghanistan.

NATO is considering extending its mission beyond Kabul into eight provincial cities, which NATO officials say could require several thousand more troops.

The United Nations is expected to approve a resolution authorizing the wider NATO mission, something that has long been requested by Afghan authorities.