Russia restart ties despite Georgia row

Differences remain unresolved as they turn to security issues.

Corfu, Greece -- NATO and Russia on Saturday resumed formal cooperation on broad security threats but failed to bridge differences over Georgia in their first high-level talks since last year's war in the Caucasus region.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said the two sides had recognized that it was time to press joint efforts against Afghan insurgents and drug trafficking, Somali piracy, terrorism and nuclear proliferation.

The Russia-NATO thaw comes a week before a summit between President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in Moscow, and a meeting of the Group of 8 industrialized nations in Italy.

"We have restarted our relations at a political level, we also agreed to restart the military to military contacts which had been frozen since last August," De Hoop Scheffer told reporters, referring to the Russia-Georgia conflict.

"The NATO-Russia Council is now back in gear. We agreed not to let disagreements bring the whole train to a halt. On Georgia, there are still fundamental differences. . . . [But] Russia needs NATO and NATO needs Russia," he said.

"Afghanistan is clearly, also from the Russian side, a dossier where more and closer cooperation is certainly within the range of the possible," he said. This could include counter-narcotics operations.

Russia was decidedly more reserved about the deal, which was struck on the Greek island of Corfu after protracted recriminations over Moscow's military intervention when Georgian forces attempted to wrest back rebel territory.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the meeting, after a 10-month vacuum, was "to a certain extent a positive development" and cited "very frank exchanges," alluding in part to intractable differences over Georgia's status.

He said that Russia's recognition of the "independence" of two breakaway regions from Georgia was an irreversible "new reality" and the West should get used to it.

Russia routed Georgian troops who tried to retake South Ossetia in August and has blocked an extension of an Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe peace monitoring mission in Georgia, which expires Tuesday, by insisting on a separate mandate for South Ossetia.

Western diplomats fear that the observers' departure might lead to new fighting.