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Russian FM Lavrov urges NATO transformation, non-proliferation-1

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UN, September 22 (RIA Novosti) - Russia's foreign minister has called on NATO to evolve from a military alliance into a more universal political organization capable of responding to changing realities.

Sergei Lavrov also urged the United Nations General Assembly Thursday to make international efforts to support the nuclear non-proliferation regime, but warned against the use of force and sanctions in tackling the problem.

"We hope NATO will make the transformation from a defensive alliance into a more modern organization corresponding to the principles of transparency and a collective response [to problems] on a universal legal basis," Lavrov said.

NATO has expanded to include many of Russia's former Communist-bloc allies in eastern Europe and the former Soviet republics of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia in the Baltics. And a NATO ministerial meeting on the sidelines of the General Assembly decided to step up dialogue with Georgia with the aim of admitting the Caucasus state next year.

Lavrov said Russia was willing to maintain cooperation with NATO bodies as a collective approach to resolving problems had taken shape in global affairs in recent years.

Russia has been anxious about the approach of NATO bases closer to its borders. But the country, as well as other post-Soviet states, has maintained cooperation with the alliance under the Partnership for Peace program, participating in joint exercises and other events.

But the minister condemned use of force as means to resolve international disputes.

"The growing reliance on military force in global affairs we are unfortunately witnessing today has had a negative effect on non-proliferation regimes. Predictability and stability in the security sphere are increasingly in deficit," he said, apparently referring to the U.S.-led operation in Iraq.

Russia, which saw five embassy employees in Baghdad murdered in June, criticized the 2003 invasion of Iraq and has since adopted a cautious approach over concerns voiced with regard to neighboring Iran's controversial nuclear program.

"Even a legitimate interest in peaceful nuclear energy displayed by many countries cause the concerns [of the international community] against this backdrop," Lavrov said.

He said the world should devise more universal non-proliferation rules and ensure equal access to nuclear energy for all as it searches for ways to resolve the disputes with Iran and North Korea over their nuclear ambitions. Secretive Pyongyang has claimed it has nuclear weapons and Tehran has refused to suspend uranium enrichment, saying it only needs nuclear fuel for power generation.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said in January that "nuclear club" countries could open centers offering nuclear fuel services, providing equal access on market terms to nations seeking nuclear fuel under non-proliferation regulations and standards.

The move was widely interpreted as an attempt to reach a compromise in the crisis over Iran, which is suspected of pursuing a covert weapons program.

The Advanced Energy Initiative put forward by U.S. President George Bush echoes Putin's proposal focusing on recycling and providing assistance to nations pursuing nuclear energy for civilian needs.

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