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Outgoing NATO Secretary-General Praises Russian Relationship - 2003-10-30

Outgoing NATO Secretary General George Robertson says Russia and NATO have undergone a "revolutionary" change in relationship from adversaries to partners.

Secretary General Robertson said the NATO alliance and Russia have been able to overcome their differences and work calmly to build positive relations in what he described as the "new era" of the 21st century.

Mr. Robertson, who leaves his post at the end of the year, said he has worked hard to develop a working relationship with Moscow during his four-year tenure as NATO chief, saying that he has visited Russia more times than most countries in the alliance.

He said that Russia and NATO have worked together in peacekeeping missions in the former Yugoslavia, and have also cooperated in the war on terror in Afghanistan.

But the NATO chief acknowledged that there have been what he called "bumps in the road," such as recent comments by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov that Moscow might re-evaluate its nuclear strategy, "if NATO remains a military alliance with an offensive doctrine."

Russia is also not happy that many of its former satellite states in Central and Eastern Europe are due to join NATO next May, including the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

But Mr. Robertson said, despite this, the two sides see that they only stand to benefit by working together.

"It is based on pragmatic self-interest of both sides," he said. "NATO has made the calculation that we are safer and stronger in dealing with today's threats, if we have Russia firmly on our side. And Russia has come to exactly the same conclusion."

President Putin complimented the outgoing NATO chief for his role in overcoming differences, especially when relations hit a low point during the Kosovo conflict in 1999.

Russia strongly opposed the NATO bombing campaign against Serbia, with which Russia has strong ethnic ties.

Both leaders acknowledged that after the September 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, relations between Russia and the West improved dramatically, given President Putin's strong support for the U.S.-led war on terror.

Mr. Robertson will be replaced by the current foreign minister of the Netherlands, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.