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Obama urges NATO 'to engage' Russia


STRASBOURG, April 3 (RIA Novosti) - NATO should engage Russia and recognize that Moscow has legitimate interests, the U.S. president told journalists in the French city of Strasbourg on Friday ahead of a NATO summit.

"It is important for NATO allies to engage Russia, and to recognize that they have legitimate interests. In some case we have common interests, but we also have some core disagreements," Barack Obama told a joint news conference with French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

He said there was "great potential" to improve U.S.-Russian relations, but warned Moscow that it had to mend its ways.

"We have to send a very clear message to Russia that we want to work with them but we can't go back to the old ways of doing business," Obama said.

He dismissed Moscow's concerns about NATO eastward expansion and its attempts to influence the admission of new European members.

"I think we should be in a dialogue with them about how we can maintain stability, while respecting the autonomy and independence of all countries in Europe -- west, east, central, wherever they are," he said.

NATO's relations with Moscow have deteriorated to levels not seen since the Cold War after Russia's retaliation over Georgia's attack on South Ossetia in August last year.

NATO called Russia's military response to Georgia's attack on South Ossetia "disproportionate" and condemned Moscow's decision in late August to recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states.

In response to NATO's decision to halt cooperation in September, Russia put on hold a number of programs, including the Partnership for Peace program, a high-ranking visit to Moscow, some joint naval training and NATO visits to Russian ports. However Russia continued its work with NATO on arms control, cooperation in airspace, and the war in Afghanistan.

After a meeting with foreign ministers from NATO member states on March 5, Secretary General de Hoop Scheffer announced the alliance's decision to restart cooperation with Russia.

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