- Title: BELGIUM: NATO foreign ministers discuss Russia, Ukraine and Georgia
- Date: 3rd December 2008
- Summary: BRUSSELS, BELGIUM (DECEMBER 2, 2008) (REUTERS) EXTERIOR OF NATO HEADQUARTERS CHRISTMAS TREE AND U.S. FLAG
- Embargoed: 18th December 2008 12:00
- Location: Belgium
- Country: Belgium
- Reuters ID: LVAEUW2TXDDKJOO64MAV3O2VZKS2
- Story Text: NATO foreign ministers met in Brussels on Tuesday (December 2) with several issues on the agenda.
It was Condoleezza Rice's last NATO meeting as U.S. Secretary of State and NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said he could feel "a slight nostalgia" when seeing her entering his office for the last time.
In his opening remarks, Scheffer described a climate "full of uncertainties" on the heels of a wave of terrorist attacks in India's Mumbai, adding that security was precious.
''We are meeting today in a climate full of uncertainties. The financial crisis, the violent attacks we saw last week in Mumbai that claimed the lives of many Indians and of many of our citizens too, and the piracy off the coast of Somalia which is threatening our main sea routes, are all elements that remind us that security in any form remains a precious good for our countries,'' Scheffer said.
NATO ships began anti-piracy operations off the Somali coast in late October, but they have failed to stop a spate of recent hijackings.
This month, the European Union takes control of the operation, involving four to six ships. Greece, master of nearly a fifth of the world's merchant fleet, has the rotating command.
Also on the agenda is NATO's relationship with Russia. Some European states have urged an early normalisation of ties with the ex-Soviet state.
NATO's relationship with Moscow was scaled down due to Russia's August incursion into Georgia.
European capitals have urged NATO to study resuming full contacts with Russia, but Washington has been reluctant to make any early move.
''After the Caucasus conflict, we decided that there could be no business as usual with Russia and that we had to seriously review our relationship. Today, we will continue this review and will discuss the parameters for our engagement with Russia. Our aim has never changed -- to build a Europe all free and at peace, a Europe in which Russia should play a full part as a responsible major player,'' Scheffer said.
During the meeting, NATO is expected to encourage Georgia and Ukraine to pursue reforms needed to eventually join the alliance but stop short of offering formal roadmaps.
NATO is studying face-saving options for Georgia and Ukraine as prospects of the ex-Soviet states to secure membership plans were dim.
Washington has led a push for NATO to offer both countries a Membership Action Plan (MAP), a programme of advice and practical support covering political, economic, defence and security cooperation designed to help aspiring countries prepare for membership.
Russia, a key energy supplier to Europe, is fiercely opposed to Georgia joining NATO. France and Germany blocked offers of MAPs to both at an alliance summit in Bucharest in April.
However, under U.S. pressure, NATO leaders promised them eventual NATO membership and to review their cases in December.
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