NATO, Russia sign agreement to ease military cooperation

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov signed an agreement with NATO on Thursday to facilitate joint military maneuvers and troop training and to ease the transport of forces through each other's territories.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer called the signing "a concrete milestone in practical NATO-Russia cooperation."

The "status of forces agreement" offers legal protection to NATO troops on Russian territory and similar rights to Russian forces visiting NATO nations. Allied diplomats said it could ease NATO supplies lines to its peacekeeping force in Afghanistan.

"It provides us with a much needed legal framework that enhances substantially our ability to act together in the face of common threats," de Hoop Scheffer said.

Lavrov joined his NATO counterparts as they held their first meeting on the territory of the former-Soviet Union. Lithuania is one of the three Baltic states that joined NATO a year ago, 14 years after they broke free of Soviet occupation.

Russia opposed their membership and is wary of NATO efforts to build closer relations with another of its neighbors, Ukraine _ a key theme of the talks in Vilnius.

Also on he agenda of the NATO-Russia meeting were differences over the role of Russian troops in Moldova and Georgia.


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