NATO and Russia have opened a new era of cooperation. They are creating a new council to work out common action on a variety of issues.

In a joint statement released in Brussels, Russia and NATO said they are stepping up cooperation in areas including the struggle against terrorism, arms control, civil emergencies, nonproliferation and crisis management.

Plans call for the new council to be in place by the next meeting of NATO foreign ministers in May.

NATO Secretary-General George Robertson said the precise nature of the new body will require substantial work over the coming months. But he said NATO and Russia are determined to make the initiative work. "There is no issue more important to the security and stability of the Euro-Atlantic area than the further development of confidant and cooperative relations between us. Today's decision is, therefore, a major step towards completing NATO's vision of shaping real security with its partners," he said.

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said Russia has no interest in getting in line for NATO membership, but he said Moscow wants to work closely with the alliance.

Diplomatic sources said NATO members are developing ways to hold regular discussions with the Russians and include them in decision-making, while still retaining NATO's ability to act on its own.

Secretary-general Robertson said Russia will not be able to veto NATO decisions on the new council.

For the past several years, meetings have been held under the NATO-Russia permanent Joint Council, which both sides said has not been satisfactory. Frequently, NATO used the body to inform Russia of positions already taken.