The Greek island hosted an informal summit of the foreign ministers of the 56 member countries of the OSCE, presided by Greece
Corfu.- NATO and Russia on Saturday resumed formal cooperation on broad security threats but failed to bridge major differences over Georgia in their first high-level talks since the war in the Caucasus region. NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said the alliance and Russia have agreed to resume military ties after a 10-month hiatus caused by the war between Russia and Georgia.
Relations between the alliance and the Russian military were frozen in the aftermath of the five-day war last August. Although political ties have thawed considerably over the past five months, there have been no formal military contacts since then.
That was the first of the two high-level meetings held on the Ionian island of Corfu on Saturday and Sunday with the participation of more than 50 foreign ministers, focusing on European security and the consolidation of trust between the east and the west.
The informal ministerial meeting of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) took place on Sunday with the participation of all 56 member-states, and chaired by Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis.
The U.S. delegation is headed by the Deputy Secretary of States James Steinberg. The bilateral agreements scheduled to be signed between the US and Greece are expected to clear the way for Greece’s participation in the US visa waiver program and to establish closer cooperation in combating terrorism and organised crime.
As regards the major issue of European security, the Greek side made strong efforts to launch a new dialogue within the framework of which will be defined in the OSCE ministerial meeting in December that will mark the end of the Greek OSCE Chairmanship.
Outgoing NATO secretary general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer stressed that the purpose of the NATO-Russia meeting was to “build together a viable and inclusive peace in the Euro-Atlantic area”, in his opening address Saturday evening to the NATO-Russia Council, at foreign minister level, convened on the Greek island of Corfu.
Noting that Saturday’s meeting followed a serious crisis, Scheffer described as “particularly significance the common decision” for the meeting, which he said would aspire to advancing the work of the NATO-Russia Council (NRC) in the prospect of a military cooperation.
He said that the cooperation for peace is a process of strategic importance, stressing that the NATO-Russia cooperation is founded on the principles of the Rome Declaration and the common volition for a constructive and sincere dialogue.
Referring to the search for an architecture on security issues, Scheffer stressed that the meeting had the ability to contribute to stability in Europe, while he also thanked the Greek hosts of the meeting for the “pleasant environment and generous hospitality”.
Scheffer, in his last public appearance as the NATO chief, turned over the podium to Greece’s prime minister Costas Karamanlis, who stressed that the development of good relations between NATO and Russie “is of great importance”, and welcomed all the foreign ministers attending, and Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi (who had just arrived in the conference hall), while he also expressed his conviction that the Corfu meeting would enable the NATO-Russia relationship to take steps forward.
Before the commencement of the meeting, Karamanlis, accompanied by foreign minister Dora Bakoyannis, had a private meeting with Scheffer.
Speaking to reporters, the Russian envoy to NATO Dmitry Rogozin noted that Moscow’s goal was an analysis of the state of the Russia-NATO relationship, as well as an appraisal of the conditions. “We want to see whether the conditions have ripened for a prospective commencment of the process of military cooperation,” he said.
British foreign secretary David Miliband, in reply to a press question, noted that “it is important to understand that there are new threats in the area of security, and it is better to face them together with Russia, rather than without Russia”.
Lavrov called the meeting after a 10-month vacuum “to a certain extent a positive development” and cited “very frank exchanges,” alluding in part to intractable differences over Georgia’s status.
Lavrov repeated that Russia’s recognition of the “independence” of two rebel regions from Georgia was an irreversible “new reality” and the West should get used to it.
Russia routed Georgian troops who tried to retake South Ossetia in August 2008 and has blocked an extension of an OSCE peace monitoring mission in Georgia, which expires on Tuesday, by insisting on a separate mandate for South Ossetia.
Western diplomats fear the OSCE military observers’ imminent departure might lead to new fighting in the tinderbox Caucasus.
Despite the impasse over Georgia, de Hoop Scheffer said efforts to flesh out Saturday’s accord would begin soon at ambassadorial level in Brussels.
Many of the ministers will stay on for an informal European Union review of ties with Iran over its post-election crackdown on opposition protesters, and an OSCE session to tackle Western-Russian grievances stoked by the Georgia conflict.
A senior U.S. official said earlier NATO also hoped for cooperation with Russia in counter-piracy operations off Somalia and to extend, to a NATO level, bilateral talks on transit of military supplies to Afghanistan through Russian territory.
Foreign minister and OSCE Chairperson-in-Office Dora Bakoyannis met on Saturday with her German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier, shortly after his arrival on the island of Corfu for the informal NATO-Russia ministerial meeting on Saturday and an Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe informal ministerial meeting the following day.
“Problems are solved with dialogue, not with texts that have been drafted and are simply read out,” Steinmeier observed in statements to the press after the meeting.
Bakoyannis expressed satisfaction over the fact that most of the OSCE member countries responded to the invitation for the Corfu meeting, noting that her desire was to have “an open and sincere discussion on the issues of security”.
Steinmeier congratulated his Greek counterpart on her “courage in organising this meeting” which, however, “is necessary, as there are many open issues”, referring indicatively to the NATO-Russia dialogue and also Russia’s proposal for a “Europe-wide security architecture”.
As for the difficulties in reaching understanding, Steinmeier recalled that “in order to reach Helsinki, 2,500 meetings preceded.”
“In the present instance, we are at the second meeting,” he added, stressing that the prospect of a security agreement “is very significant”.
To a question on the procedure that will be followed for an agreement, Steinmeier said that he has been following the NATO-Russia Council for the past four years and considers it a “very interesting” process, but noted that “it is not easy for solutions to be found, especially when the states come with (prepared) texts, which they read out, and not with a disposition for dialogue”.
In other words, he explained, the process is productive when there is a disposition for dialogue, and not prepared texts.
Immediately afterwards, Bakoyannis met with British foreign secretary David Miliband, but no statements were after the meeting.