U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday voiced her strong support for reenergizing NATO-Russia formal talks, and underlined the principle of seeking close cooperation on issues where are common interests while acknowledging differences.
"There are benefits to reenergize the NATO-Russia Council, just as there are potential benefits in discussion that I will begin with (Russian Foreign Minister Sergei) Lavrov tomorrow in Geneva tomorrow," said Clinton at a press conference at the conclusion of the NATO foreign ministers' meeting in Brussels.
Earlier, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer announced Thursday that foreign ministers from the military alliance's 26 members had agreed to resume formal talks with Russia as soon as possible, including a ministerial-level meeting after the NATO summit in early April.
Clinton said that Washington and Moscow "can and must cooperate" on non-proliferation, arms control, anti-terrorism, anti-piracy efforts and some other areas, but "there are equally serious matters that we need to not stop talking to Russia."
Stressing that the United States is willing to seek common ground wherever is possible, Clinton said that "dialogue with Russia has the potential of easing tensions and solving problems." "We pursue it with our eyes wide open."
Clinton and Lavrov are due to meet in Geneva for the first time since she took office, to discuss a wide range of political and military issues including arms control, missile defense, and non-proliferation.
After what she called "vigorous discussion" about Russia, Clinton said NATO allies "emerged with greater unity and purpose about how to build a constructive relationship with Russia, and a stronger consensus about our relations with emerging nations of Europe's east. "
Clinton said that NATO allies agree that "we must find ways to cooperate constructively with Russia where we share common threats and common interests." "We also agree that we find ways to manage our differences with Russia," she added.
Meanwhile, the U.S. top diplomat reiterated Washington's support for and "firm commitment" to Georgia and Ukraine to move toward NATO membership, stressing that "we support the rights of sovereign nations to make their own decisions."
"I certainly emphasized that we support the rights of sovereign nations to make their own decisions ... The United States will not recognize any nation that has sphere of influence over any other nation," said Clinton.
She promised that the United States will work with Ukraine and Georgia, along with NATO allies, to make clear that the two countries does not become the subject of "Russian intimidation or aggression."
On the contentious issue of missile defense, Clinton defended the U.S. decision to deploy such system in Poland and the Czech Republic.
"It has always been the American position that missile defense is primarily aimed at a nation like Iran or networks of terrorists that could obtain deliverable nuclear or conventional or biological or chemical weapons and the missiles to use that," she said.
She stressed that "Europe has the right to defend itself against the new threats of the 21st century."
"We have a belief in the U.S. that those threats in the future are likely to come more from the (rogue) regimes and terrorist networks ... We have to help the European friends," she said.
Speaking of Iran's alleged nuclear program, Clinton said the task of the United States was to "dissuade them, to deter them, to prevent them from acquiring nuclear weapons which threaten Europe and Arab neighbors in the Gulf."
"We have long offered Russia the opportunity to work with us on missile defense. We actually think that missile defense is a very important tool in our defensive arsenal for the future," she added.
Russia has been long opposed to the U.S. missile defense plan in east Europe, threatening to counter the move by deploying a short-range missile system in Kaliningrad bordering Poland and Lithuania.
However, Russia has said it will halt plans to install its Iskander missile system in Kaliningrad if Washington drops the deployment of the anti-missile shield in eastern Europe.