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    US, Russian military chiefs hold face-to-face talks post-Georgia

    HotNewsTurkey with wires
    22.10.2008 - 10:04 | Son Güncelleme:

    U.S. and Russian military chiefs met directly for private talks in Helsinki Tuesday to mend a relationship "clearly" marred by Russia-Georgia conflict, officials told AFP. (UPDATED)

    Admiral Michael Mullen, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said after his meeting with General Nikolai Makarov in this Cold War capital that the relationship would not return to where it was before the Russia-Georgia conflict but it should not be "all on or all off."

     

    "Clearly the relationship has changed because of what happened in Georgia. I mean, it will not return to exactly where it was before Georgia," Mullen told reporters traveling with him en route to Latvia.

     

    However, "I pointed out during the meeting that even in the darkest days of the Cold War we were talking to each other," he added.

     

    Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the talks in Finland did not mean U.S.-Russian relations were back to normal.

     

    "There's some things we won't do because it isn't business as usual and there are others, when we think it's in our interest or the broader interest of nations, (when) we will cooperate with them," he was quoted by Reuters as telling reporters at the Pentagon.

     

    "I think that keeping a channel of communications to the Russian military leadership open is never a bad idea, including at the height of the Cold War," said Gates, a former CIA chief who worked as an analyst on Russia and the Soviet Union.

     

    However, Gates said talking with the Russian military "is never a bad idea."

     

    Mullen flew immediately after the meeting to Riga to reassure worried Baltic states of continued U.S. support.

     

    REASSURANCE MESSAGE TO LATVIA 

    "One of the reasons I’m here is to send a very visible message of reassurance," he said at a news conference there with Latvian President Valdis Zatlers, adding that NATO was "not accepting in any way, shape or form what the Russians did in Georgia."

     

    In Brussels, a NATO spokesman said the alliance had "neither discussed nor abandoned" its decision in September to freeze high-level contacts with Moscow in response to the military action in Georgia.

     

    Makarov, the head of the Russian general staff, requested the meeting with Mullen which was arranged in secrecy and at short notice by Finland, U.S. military officials said.

     

    Mullen described the session as positive but made clear that normalizing military relations disrupted by the August 8 Russia-Georgia conflict still involves "significant challenges".

     

    "It wasn’t a meeting about disagreements (so much) as it was a dialogue and a commitment to continue the dialogue -- in particular between him and me," Mullen said, referring to Makarov.

     

    Mullen said he believed the talks would be followed by concrete steps, but declined to go into detail about what they would be, saying they still had to be worked out.  

     

    The Pentagon cancelled or suspended military exercises with the Russians in protest at Moscow’s actions in Georgia.

     

    In Riga, Mullen held talks with Latvia’s defense minister and chief of defense before the meeting with Zatlers.

     

    The shockwaves from the Russian move in Georgia, a former Soviet republic that aspires to NATO membership, were felt strongly in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia -- which defied Moscow to become the first former Soviet republics to join NATO in 2004.

     

    Relations between the United States and Russia have deteriorated over the past two years amid growing anger in Russia over NATO’s expansion, U.S. plans to install missile defense sites in eastern Europe and U.S. support for Kosovo’s independence from Serbia.

     

    But Mullen believes the two countries also have important common interests, including the consequences for stability if Iran acquires nuclear weapons, a senior U.S. military official said.

     

     

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