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Nato wonders what to do about Russia

By Paul Reynolds
World affairs correspondent, BBC News website

Russian troops in Georgia
Russian troops in Georgia: What now for Nato relations with Moscow?

On the eve of a special meeting of their foreign ministers to discuss the conflict in Georgia, Nato governments are divided on what to do about Russia.

There is a sense that a watershed has been reached. The fears of the last few years, that Russia is a new threat not a new friend, are, for some, being realised.

All agree that a careful reconsideration of the relationship is needed.

But not all agree on the way forward.

Strong response side

On the one side are the Americans, the British and many of the ex-Soviet states in Eastern Europe. They want the emphasis to be on slowing down co-operation.

The British Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, who is going to Georgia after the meeting, has consistently described the Russian actions as "aggression".

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is making a strong statement that the US and those who think like it will not be deterred by the Russian mood.

She is going to Warsaw on Wednesday and will sign an agreement under which 10 US anti-missile missiles will be stationed in Poland - a development that has led to Russia threatening Poland as a "legitimate target".

Cautious side

On the other side are the more cautious members led by France and Germany. They do not blame Moscow for the fighting so clearly as the first group and who want lines to be kept open to the Russians.

The German Foreign Minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, said that Nato should not suspend the Nato-Russia Council, which exists to encourage dialogue - nor should the West, he went on, exclude Russia from the G8 group of industrial countries or the World Trade Organisation.

"We need open channels for talks," he said.

Both sides might find common ground in demanding a quick Russian withdrawal from Georgian territory outside South Ossetia, in re-affirming their support for Georgian territorial integrity (even if that integrity is somewhat theoretical from now on) and for eventual Georgian membership of Nato.

Russian agreement to international monitors in South Ossetia would reduce tension.

Nato membership

The ministers will not lay down a timetable for Georgian membership at this meeting. It has previously been agreed that they will look first at the necessary preliminary steps only when they meet at their regular session in December.

The membership question is a delicate one. The last Nato summit in Bucharest in April agreed that both Georgia and Ukraine "will become members of Nato".

That commitment was reinforced by the German Chancellor Angela Merkel who visited Georgia over the weekend. Using a similar form of words, she said: "Georgia will become a member of Nato if it wants to - and it does want to."

However, crucially, there is no timetable for membership and first both Georgia and Ukraine will have to fulfil what are known as "membership action plans". These lay down conditions for membership, one of which is "the settling any international, ethnic or external territorial disputes by peaceful means".

Paul.Reynolds-INTERNET@bbc.co.uk


FROM OTHER NEWS SITES
Globe and Mail Georgia accuses Russia of ethnic cleansing' - 2 hrs ago
Chicago TribuneU.S.-Russia ties take a sharp turn - 7 hrs ago
Moscow Times Medvedev Backs Independence Bids - 14 hrs ago
Chicago Sun-Times Russian troops scour Georgia - 14 hrs ago
CNN Shaky Cease-fire between Russia and Georgia; British Television Reporter Roughed Him Up During a Pro-Tibet Rally; Trend in Foreclosures Continues Increasing; Comedian Margaret Cho Returns to TV - 18 hrs ago
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