The North Atlantic Treaty Organization will support efforts by former communist nations to join the military alliance despite opposition from Russia, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said here Tuesday, AFP reported.

"NATO will continue to work with all countries that aspire to join our alliance in the Balkans, in eastern Europe and the Caucasus," he told a gathering of lawmakers from NATO member states.

"The emergence of independent states within the former Soviet space is a reality. The ability of these states to determine their own future is a litmus test for the new Europe," the former Dutch foreign minister added.

With nine former Soviet bloc countries already NATO members, Russia is fiercely opposed to more Soviet-era Warsaw Pact neighbors, such as Georgia and the Ukraine, even starting the process of joining the Western military alliance.

NATO`s eastern expansion along with U.S. plans to install missile defenses in eastern Europe and Washington`s support for the independence of Kosovo from Serbia this year have led to a sharp deterioration in U.S.-Russian and NATO-Russian relations over the past two years.

NATO suspended meetings with Russia after Moscow launched a military attack Aug. 8 on Georgia in response to a Georgian military offensive to take the rebel region of South Ossetia back under government control.

Scheffer said he would like to like to meet with Russian officials in Moscow to iron out the differences which have emerged between Russia and NATO.

"I am ready to go to Moscow to talk to the Russian leadership. I am ready for it, I think NATO allies are ready for it. I hope I am welcomed soon there soon," he said.

He also condemned Russia`s recognition of the two separatist regions in Georgia and reiterated his belief that Russia had used "disproportionate force" in its conflict with Georgia.

AFP via EasyBourse