WARSAW, Poland – Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov joined his NATO counterparts Wednesday for talks expected to focus on the global fight against terrorism and the crisis over Iraq.
The meeting will be held under the new partnership agreement signed between Russia and the 19-nation military alliance in May, which NATO officials say has been working better than expected in increasing defense ties between the former foes.
"We're off to a very good start," said NATO Secretary-General George Robertson. "It's a moment when NATO-Russia relations are at a very high level."
Lord Robertson mentioned cooperation on terrorism, countering proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, airspace management, and preparing defenses against missile attacks as areas where the two sides are already working closely together.
Ivanov is also expected to raise the subject of Georgia, which Russia accuses of harboring Chechen terrorists responsible for attacks on its territory.
On Tuesday, the NATO ministers received a briefing from the United States on the threat posed by Iraq and its weapons of mass destruction and discussed plans to revamp the alliance to deal with terrorism and rogue states.
The United States is seeking support from Russia for a new, tougher U.N. resolution to back up U.N. weapons inspectors in Iraq, but Moscow's line on the issue has been unclear.
Like many of the NATO allies, Russia opposes any unilateral U.S. military action against Iraq.
U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told reporters Monday he had given NATO "a very thorough briefing on the best shared intelligence information that exists on Iraq, weapons of mass destruction and terrorism."
He would provide no details but said the information "closely parallels" a British government dossier presented in London on Tuesday which detailed Iraq's chemical and germ warfare capabilities and attempts to obtain nuclear weapons.
However, Rumsfeld said he did not ask for military contributions from the allies to a potential U.S. attack on Iraq, because President Bush has not yet decided whether to use force to achieve his goal of deposing Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
The NATO allies gave broad support to Rumsfeld's plan for a new 21,000-strong allied strike force including elite land, sea and air units able to deploy quickly to international hot spots.
"There was a warm welcome for the proposal," said Robertson. "We have to sharpen our ability to field forces quickly and effectively."
NATO is preparing a draft of reforms to be adopted by its leaders at a summit in late November in the Czech capital, Prague.
They include targets for European allies to narrow the capabilities gap with U.S. forces by acquiring high-tech hardware such as precision-guided munitions, radar-jamming equipment or surveillance drones.
The allies are also seeking to streamline their command structure, create more mobile forces to tackle terrorism and increase the sharing of resources.
Despite Russian objections, NATO is also set to expand further eastward at the Prague meeting. Up to seven new nations are expected to join -- Slovenia, Slovakia, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Romania and Bulgaria, following Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic who enrolled in 1999.