NATO says talks progress on Russian Afghan help
NATO diplomats denied that any trade-off is under discussion
NATO is in talks with Russia on a set of accords for the alliance to use Russian land and airspace to transport troops and equipment to its security forces in Afghanistan, the alliance said on Saturday, according to Reuters.
The pacts are part of a package of Russian assistance for NATO`s 43,000-strong operation in Afghanistan which could be announced at an alliance summit early next month which President Vladimir Putin is due to attend as guest.
"Discussions are under way. There is no deal done. We are working towards an agreement at the Bucharest summit," NATO spokesman James Appathurai said of an April 2-4 meeting in the Romanian capital.
"We are negotiating land and air transit agreements plus the possibility of making more permanent our cooperation on counter-narcotics training," Appathurai said.
NATO and Russia already cooperate in training Afghan and central Asian counter-narcotics officials as part of efforts to contain Afghanistan`s huge opium trade.
Russia`s then-Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov said early last year that Russia was ready to offer more help in Afghanistan, saying at a NATO meeting in Spain that Moscow had a "vital, visceral interest" in restoring stability to Afghanistan.
He noted Russia had already signed transit agreements with a number of NATO allies and was ready to strike more such deals, to provide unspecified intelligence support and to help get the war-shattered Afghan economy back on its feet.
NATO and Russia have long held talks on boosting military cooperation but the discussions have often proven difficult and been overshadowed by disputes such as Moscow`s decision last year to freeze its compliance with a European arms treaty, or Russian anger at a planned U.S. missile shield in east Europe.
The Bucharest summit is also set to decide on requests by ex-Soviet Ukraine and Georgia to take part in NATO`s Membership Action Plan (MAP), the forum for preparing aspiring members of the alliance for possible entry.
Russia is deeply opposed to such a move, about which several west European allies, notably Germany, are sceptical.
They point to the low level of public support in Ukraine for NATO membership, and Georgia`s heavy-handed treatment of opposition protests late last year, including the imposition of a state of emergency and closing down of a television station.
Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza reported on Saturday that Russia`s offer of military help was made in the hope of persuading NATO allies not to offer MAP to Ukraine and Georgia. NATO diplomats denied that any trade-off was under discussion.