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Russia offers NATO help in Afghanistan
( 2003-06-05 09:49) (7)

Russia is offering intelligence and other support for a NATO peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan but will not send troops to the nation once occupied by the Soviet Union for 10 years, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said Wednesday.

Meeting his NATO counterparts, Ivanov said the offer showed the increasingly close relationship between the former Cold War foes. The Soviet Union was embroiled in a costly war in Afghanistan through the 1980s before withdrawing in 1989.

"Cooperation with NATO may take many forms, but not direct military participation," Ivanov said.

NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson said the "good will shown by Russia is much appreciated" and NATO was considering the offer.

NATO is scheduled Aug. 11 to take command of a 5,000-strong peacekeeping force in the Afghan capital, Kabul, currently run by Germany and the Netherlands.

Ivanov welcomed a commitment from the United States and other NATO allies to show what he called "military restraint" on the territory of the seven eastern European nations scheduled to join the alliance next year.

Russia had received assurances that plans currently under consideration by the Pentagon to replace large U.S. bases in Germany with smaller, more flexible units in countries such as Romania and Bulgaria would respect arms control agreements with Russia, he said.

Russia also was pleased with plans by Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Slovenia - who will also join NATO in May - to sign the European arms control treaty when it enters into force.

In return, Russia agreed to stick to its pledge to withdraw troops from Moldova and Georgia. Russia was on track to remove all its troops and military equipment from Moldova by October, NATO officials said.

In an attempt to allay Western concerns about Russian aid to Iran's nuclear industry, Ivanov insisted any nuclear fuel sent to the Bushehr nuclear plant would have to be returned to Russia after being spent in the reactor.

Also, Iran must sign an International Atomic Energy Agency protocol allowing inspections of all nuclear sites at any time, he said.

Russian help to Iran's nuclear power program has been criticized by the United States, which says the assistance could help Tehran develop atomic weapons. However, Russia is pushing ahead with its $800 million contract to complete the Bushehr plant.

Ivanov attended the second and final day of a NATO foreign ministers meeting as part of a year-old agreement to improve ties with the alliance.

Both sides stressed the rapidly developing cooperation between them in areas including counterterrorism, missile defenses, maritime rescues and planning to cope with earthquakes and other civil emergencies.

"This level of cooperation, in the past, would have been inconceivable," Robertson said. "In today's world the NATO allies and Russia need each other more than ever."

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