Thursday, March 5, 2009

Anywhere it wants

Q: Where does a 300-pound gorilla sit? A: NATO's decision Thursday to resume formal ties with Russia, suspended after Moscow's war with Georgia last year, is the 2009 version of that old joke. The European alliance depends upon Russia in a lot of ways, notably for keeping the peace and supplying natural gas, and cannot pretend it has any intention or desire to isolate Moscow. On the surface, NATO ministers said the rapproachment was intended to gain support for its mission in Afghanistan, where it has some 50,000 troops backing up the nearly impotent Kabul government, according to the Reuters international news service. "We can and must find ways to work constructively with Russia where we share areas of common interest, including helping the people of Afghanistan," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said at a summit in Geneva. Russia seemed to welcome the move, Reuters said. "This decision is positive," said Dmitry Rogozin, its ambassador to NATO, who said it was "promising in terms of stability and security in Afghanistan." But that sounded like relief more than rhetoric from Clinton, who earlier obtained an agreement from Russia to allow shipments of supplies to U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Russia also could help convince other Central Asian countries to allow shipments of NATO supplies and allow NATO to keep its bases open. New shipment routes to Afghanistan are needed because existing routes are under attack from insurgent forces, Reuters said. Keeping everybody happy is not an easy task. Russia still has not completed its withdrawal from disputed areas of Georgia but, since Moscow's cooperation is needed on these other issues, the United States is trying to keep from making the gorilla too angry. Clinton plans to talk with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Friday, and has proposed an international conference on Afghanistan on March 31, Reuters said.

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