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Clinton Says NATO Must Make Fresh Start With Russia


BRUSSELS — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Thursday it was time for NATO to make a new start with Russia but urged the alliance to leave open the door to membership for former Soviet states Ukraine and Georgia, which Moscow opposes.

NATO foreign ministers are expected to agree to resume high-level formal ties with Russia after they were suspended last year following Moscow's brief military incursion into Georgia.

"It's time to explore a fresh start. We can and must find ways to work constructively with Russia where we share areas of common interest, including helping the people of Afghanistan," Clinton said at her first meeting with NATO ministers.

The United States and its allies must find ways to "manage differences" with Russia but stand up for its principles when security or other interests are at stake, she said.

"We should continue to open NATO's door to European countries such as Georgia and Ukraine and help them meet NATO standards," Clinton said in prepared remarks.

Russia strongly opposes NATO membership for the two former Soviet states because Moscow fears encroachment by the military alliance on its sphere of influence.

NATO has promised eventual membership for Ukraine and Georgia but has stressed this is a long way off, with allies France and Germany the least enthusiastic over allowing them to join because of Moscow's angry reaction.

Clinton said NATO members should "never" recognize the breakaway Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia or accept Russia's assertions of sphere of influence over what she said were "unwilling nations."

Clinton is expected to meet Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Geneva on Friday as part of the Obama administration's attempt to improve relations with Moscow that became increasingly strained under President George W. Bush.

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