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Earnings

NATO to review dialogue with Russia

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The future of NATO-Russia dialogue and cooperation forums established after the Cold War will be up for review due to the Russian intervention in Georgia, the U.S. ambassador to NATO said on Saturday.

Russian soldiers travel on armoured vehicles on a road leading to Senaki, a major town in western Georgia, August 16, 2008. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called a meeting of foreign ministers from the 26 NATO states for Tuesday to consult allies about the implications of the Russian action.

U.S. envoy to NATO Kurt Volker told Reuters no specific response had yet been decided, but regular meetings of foreign and defense ministers, and of NATO ambassadors with their Russian counterpart would be part of the review.

Also under scrutiny would be the future expert-level dialogue in areas such as counter-terrorism, counter narcotics and theater missile defense, he said.

“All these activities are things we are going to have to review now and say: ‘Well, what should we be doing and should we be doing something to demonstrate that there can’t be business as usual with Russia?’,” he said.

Volker said the United States was not seeking confrontation, nor to shut down forums for dialogue.

“We don’t want a negative dynamic in NATO’s relations with Russia -- we want it to be positive. But for that to happen Russia has to pull back from Georgia, respect Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and play by 21st century rules.”

Rice, who briefed President George W. Bush on her trip to Tbilisi at his Texas ranch, said on Saturday that the meeting in Brussels would review whether Russia had adhered to the ceasefire agreement and would also send a “strong message” of support for Georgia.

“Georgia is going to emerge from this, and it will be rebuilt ... It will resume its place as one of the leading economies,” she said.

“And so what the Russians will have achieved is that they will have demonstrated that they can use their overwhelming regional military power to beat up on a small neighbor,” Rice said. “And I don’t think that’s actually a very good place from which to proceed on an argument that Russia ought to be considered a responsible member of the international system.”

NATO has already barred a Russian ship from joining its multinational anti-terrorism exercise in the Mediterranean, and Russia is still waiting on its request for an emergency meeting with alliance ambassadors to discuss the crisis in the Caucasus.

Diplomats say Washington is responsible for blocking both the meeting and the ship from joining the exercise.

“RUSSIA SHOULDN’T BE THREATENING”

Volker responded to Moscow’s warning to NATO member Poland for agreeing to host parts of a U.S. missile defense system by repeating that it was not directed at Russia. “No one is threatening Russia, so Russia shouldn’t be threatening other people,” he said.

A top Russian general suggested on Friday Poland’s deal with the United States laid it open to a possible nuclear strike.

Washington has excluded Moscow from discussions among the Group of Eight industrial nations over Georgia and Rice and Bush have made clear Moscow’s membership of bodies like the World Trade Organization could be in jeopardy.

However analysts say isolating Moscow does not seem to be a viable option for Bush as Russia is just too important. If ties were to deteriorate to Cold War level, a lot is at stake, from U.N. cooperation on curbing Iran and North Korea’s nuclear ambitions to U.S. access to Asia and Afghanistan.

Russia is also a key energy supplier that some big European NATO members like France and Germany are loath to antagonize.

Russia was incensed by NATO’s promise to Georgia in April that it would one day join the Western military alliance. This would take NATO right up to Russia’s southern border and many analysts believe that and a similar promise of membership for Ukraine was one of the main causes of this month’s fighting.

Rice said at the NATO meeting officials were likely to reaffirm those understandings from the Bucharest summit that Georgia and Ukraine would be allowed to join NATO eventually.

Tuesday’s meeting is also expected to discuss monitoring of the Georgia ceasefire, humanitarian aid and the implications of the Russian action for Ukraine, diplomats said.

Additional reporting by Tabassum Zakaria in Texas

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