Russia's envoy to NATO said on Wednesday Moscow could formally relaunch ties with the alliance in March and invited NATO's head to a regional meeting set to focus on the situation in Afghanistan. NATO froze relations last August in protest against Russia's intervention in Georgia but Moscow and the alliance's key member, the United States, have sent out conciliatory messages since U.S. President Barack Obama's inauguration last month.
"We have presented the principles on which we consider it possible to build our future cooperation," Moscow's representative at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Dmitry Rogozin, told Itar-Tass news agency in an interview.
He was speaking after holding an informal meeting with NATO ambassadors earlier on Wednesday.
"If these principles are accepted at a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels on March 5, it will be a mutual decision. Building new ties, we will do everything to avoid situations that led to the freezing of the NATO-Russia Council."
He told RIA news agency he would hold a one-on-one meeting with NATO Secretary-General Jaap De Hoop Scheffer in Brussels on Thursday to "synchronize watches," but gave no further detail.
Rogozin said the NATO's head had been invited to a ministerial meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Moscow on March 27 which would focus on Afghanistan.
The SCO unites China, Russia and ex-Soviet Central Asian states of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. NATO spokeswoman Carmen Romero confirmed the invitation, saying "the secretary-general is looking into it."
Washington, facing the closure of a key military air base in Kyrgyzstan, is looking for ways to diversify land supply routes for U.S. and NATO troops fighting in Afghanistan.
"Afghanistan is a huge headache for NATO," Rogozin told Ekho Moskvy radio. "The railway transit of non-military cargo, that is due to run across Russia as well, is still not working, while losses among Afghanistan's civilian population and NATO troops are rising."
The Central Asian nations of Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan which share borders with Afghanistan have allowed non-military cargo to pass there by land across their territory. Russia and Kazakhstan are also part of the route.
Despite efforts to heal their rifts, NATO and Russia remain at odds over the Georgia war and the alliance's expansion east. Russia says it sent tanks and troops into breakaway South Ossetia after Tbilisi tried to retake the pro-Moscow region by force. NATO condemned Russia's actions during its five-day war with Georgia as disproportionate.
The alliance has also angered Russia by reaffirming a pledge that ex-Soviet Georgia and Ukraine would one day join NATO.