NATO and Russia agreed to resume military ties Saturday in their first high-level meeting since Russia's war with Georgia disrupted their relations 10 months ago.
NATO's outgoing Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer announced that the so-called NATO-Russia Council, a panel set up in 2002 to improve ties between the former Cold War rivals, was operational again.
"It was my ambition to leave to my successor an NRC that is up and running," said de Hoop Scheffer, whose term as secretary-general ends Aug. 1.
"After the meeting, which just ended, I have achieved that aim. Because there was clearly a sense in that meeting that the NRC, which had been in neutral ... is now back in gear," he said. "We also agreed to restart the military to military contacts."
Relations between the alliance and the Russian military were frozen after the five-day Georgian war last August. Although political ties have thawed considerably over the past five months, there had been no formal military contacts since then.
The resumption of talks means NATO and Russia can cooperate on range of security issues, including Afghanistan and efforts to fight piracy, terrorism and the spread of nuclear weapons.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met his counterparts from NATO's 28 member nations on the western Greek island of Corfu ahead of a broader informal meeting of ministers from the 56-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
De Hoop Scheffer described the talks as "open and constructive, which means we did not try to paper over our differences on Georgia, for example. But we agreed not to allow those agreements to bring the NRC to a halt."
He said the renewed military contacts would involve meetings of the chiefs of staff of Russia and NATO countries.
The meeting in Corfu, which came as President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev prepare to hold a summit next week, reflected the trend toward improved relations with Russia.
De Hoop Scheffer said Lavrov and the other ministers raised the issue of Georgia extensively, and he said there continued to be "fundamental differences on the territorial integrity of Georgia."
"But despite the fact I do not expect the twain to meet, there are a lot of things in NRC we can discuss and we can agree upon," De Hoop Scheffer said.
Lavrov said that "overall I view this meeting as very useful."
"We had a very frank discussion, at the center stage of which was the need on how to work together in the future," Lavrov said.
"We spoke extensively on confidence building measures, but it is important to put those words into practice."
Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi and Greek counterpart Costas Karamanlis were the only heads of government to attend the conference.
"We want to forget (the past) and resume total cooperation on all the issues on which we have decided to collaborate," Berlusconi told journalists on his arrival at the meeting.
Despite last year's disruption of ties with NATO, Russia has continued cooperating with individual NATO nations such as the U.S., France or Germany by allowing them to use Russia's rail network and aerial corridors to resupply international forces in Afghanistan, and its navy has worked with NATO warships on their joint anti-piracy patrols.
NATO commanders have been particularly interested in Russia's cooperation on the transshipments of military supplies to the rapidly expanding U.S.-led force in Afghanistan.
The normal supply route to landlocked Afghanistan via Pakistan has come under repeated Taliban attack, and the generals are keen to have an alternate overland supply route available through Russia and the Central Asian countries.