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Putin tells NATO: Let’s be friends

BUCHAREST, Romania (CNN) — Russian President Vladimir Putin struck a conciliatory note in talks with NATO leaders Friday, claiming that a new Cold War was in nobody’s interests despite terse disagreements over the future expansion of the alliance and U.S. moves to install missile defense bases in eastern Europe.

Speaking to reporters at NATO’s summit meeting in Bucharest, Putin warned that the proposed extension of NATO membership to the former Soviet republics of Ukraine and Georgia would be seen in Moscow as a direct threat to Russian security.

I heard them saying today that the expansion is not directed against Russia. But it’s the potential, not intentions that matters, Putin said, The Associated Press reported.

But Putin insisted Russia, which agreed a deal Thursday allowing the transit of non-lethal NATO supplies across its territory to Afghanistan, was prepared to cooperate with NATO providing its interests were taken into account.

Let’s be friends, guys, and engage in an honest dialogue, Putin said. We want to be heard, and we want see problems that divide us solved. None of the global players — Europe, the United States or Russia — is interested in returning to the past. And we have no ideological differences.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap De Hoop Scheffer said the atmosphere of the talks, attended by NATO’s 26 leaders, had been constructive and frank and open, AP reported.

But he added: It is true that NATO enlargement is a contentious issue. The minds do not exactly meet, to put it mildly.

Describing Russia as a partner, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said NATO is not directed against anybody, certainly not against Russia, AP said.

On Thursday, NATO members decided not to allow Georgia and Ukraine to begin the process towards membership, recognizing strong objections from Moscow.

But in a nod to U.S. President George W. Bush, who had strongly made the case for the two countries to be fully admitted to the alliance, NATO promised future membership to the pair at a later date. Albania and Croatia were also invited to join.

Russia opposes NATO membership for former Soviet republics such as Ukraine and Georgia, concerned that the alliance’s eastward march will erode its influence in those countries.

Also on Thursday, the U.S. secured NATO backing for its plans to build a radar system in the Czech Republic to track ballistic missiles.

This agreement is an important step in our efforts to protect our nations and our NATO allies from the growing threat posed by the proliferation of ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction, the U.S. State Department said in a statement.

The other eastern European element of the scheme — the siting of 10 interceptor missiles in Poland — has yet to be agreed between Poland and the U.S., AP reported, although talks are ongoing.

Moscow has mounted serious opposition to the scheme in recent months, although the U.S. has insisted it is designed to counter threats from the Middle East and is not an aggressive move against Russia.

Bush was due to hold further talks with the Russian leader at his holiday home in the Black Sea resort of Sochi over the weekend.

With Putin due to step down next month for Russia’s president-elect Dimitry Medvedev and Bush also coming to the end of his second term, this weekend’s meetings between the two leaders are seen as a key opportunity for the outgoing presidents to set the tone for future U.S.-Russian relations. E-mail to a friend

Copyright 2008 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

Putin tells NATO: Let’s be friends – found here.

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April 4, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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