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Friday, September 29, 2006

Russia accuses NATO nations of arms sales to Georgia

PORTOROZ, Slovenia, Sept 29 (Reuters) - Tensions over Georgia boiled over at NATO-Russia talks on Friday as Russian Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov accused some alliance nations of illicitly selling weapons to the ex-Soviet country.

"Some members of NATO -- shall we call them the younger generation? -- are supplying Georgia with arms and ammunition of Soviet production," Ivanov told a news briefing after the talks in the Slovenian coastal resort of Portoroz.

Ivanov did not name the countries, but he was referring to some of the seven eastern European nations that joined NATO in 2004. He said Soviet arms exports to the region were made under the understanding they would not get into the hands of third parties.

"It means these countries are breaching world practice," he said.

His comments came at a time of escalating tensions between Moscow and Tbilisi, with Russia on Friday pulling out some of its diplomats and their families from Georgia after it pressed spying charges against a group of Russian army officers.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said the 26-member alliance, which this month angered Moscow by opening talks with Georgia on closer ties potentially leading to membership, urged restraint on both sides.

"This is of course a bilateral issue between Georgia and Russia and NATO does not have a direct role...There was a call by me for moderation and de-escalation," he told a news briefing.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld joined the call for restraint and insisted Russia had no say in whether Georgia ultimately became a member of NATO.

"NATO membership really is a decision for individual countries and not for countries other than the individual countries," he told reporters.

Neither De Hoop Scheffer nor Rumsfeld referred to Ivanov's accusations of arms sales to Georgia by some NATO members. An alliance spokesman said Ivanov had not raised the issue in talks earlier with his NATO counterparts.
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