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Lavrov Will Not Attend NATO Meeting

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will not attend the scheduled meeting of the NATO-Russia Council later this month.

Russian news agencies say Lavrov's decision to pull out of the session, expected May 19, follows the NATO expulsion last week of two Russian diplomats attached to the alliance. The meeting was to have been the first ministerial-level contact between NATO and Russia since the alliance cut such ties following Russia's military sweep into Georgia last year.

NATO expelled the two Russians over a spy scandal in which a senior Estonian defense official was sentenced to 12 years in prison following conviction for passing thousands of classified alliance documents to Russia's intelligence services.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer expressed regret over Lavrov's decision. An alliance spokeswoman said the NATO chief believes there are many issues of common and mutual interest to be discussed.

The secretary-general expressed hope a new date for a meeting of the foreign ministers of the NATO-Russia Council will be found soon.

Belgian authorities say the two Russian diplomats NATO ordered out last week remain in the country. This prompted the Belgian government to ask Russia to clarify when they will leave.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.