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NATO, Russia vow closer military ties, intelligence share

Taormina, Italy - Former Cold War adversaries NATO and Russia on Friday vowed closer military links and said they would exchange intelligence on global security concerns.

'We are exchanging intelligence, information and analysis,' NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told reporters after defence chiefs from the 26-nation Alliance met Russian Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Sergey Ivanov.

'This is a very important moment in our relationship,' said Scheffer, adding that ministers had confirmed the 'political will to explore new areas of cooperation,' including better cooperation and interoperability between Russian and NATO forces.

Speaking separately, Ivanov said discussions had focused on military links but also cooperation on global security issues. 'Our cooperation is forging ahead, also on a bilateral level with NATO states,' he said.

Russia and NATO created a special council three years ago to encourage more cooperation on security issues. Scheffer said attention was now centred on making the partnership 'more operational.'

Russian navy vessels are expected to start participating this summer in NATO's 'Active Endeavour' counter-terror operation in the Mediterranean.

In a symbolic gesture, Scheffer is planning to board the Russian ship Moskva currently docked in the southern Italian port of Messina.

Separately, Russia has also said it will start providing NATO with heavy air transport under an agreement signed last month with Germany.

Moscow and NATO have also said they will work together to combat narcotics production and trade in Afghanistan.

Later Friday, NATO ministers will meet defence officials from six Arab states and Israel for discussions expected to focus on military ties but also Muslim fury over the publication of caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed.

Representatives from Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and Mauritania are expected to attend the first-ever meeting of NATO and southern Mediterranean defence ministers.

But some Arab countries are only sending deputy ministers and senior military officials to Taormina.

On Thursday, Scheffer insisted that attacks on NATO peacekeepers in Afghanistan over the cartoons would not deter the Alliance from its plans to expand into the south of the country.

'NATO is fully committed to take forward expansion ... we will not waver,' Scheffer told reporters.

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