Nato and Russia join forces against terror

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Nato and Russia last night concluded what both described as a historic agreement to banish the legacy of the Cold War.

The agreement, signed in the Icelandic capital, Reykjavik, sets up a Nato-Russia Council that is designed to identify and combat common security threats, including terrorism and biological and chemical weapons.

The Nato Secretary General, George Robertson, said: "It is impossible to overstate the importance of this recognition, that Nato and Russia must stand side by side in defence of common values and interests in the face of the challenges of the new century.

Nato needed to change to deal with threats, he said, "that cannot be measured in fleets of tanks, warships or combat aircraft. Threats no longer mounted by governments. And threats that can come with little or no warning".

The concept of the new body arose from Russia's support for the US after the terrorist attacks of 11 September. It is also a tacit acknowledgement that the previous framework for Nato-Russian relations, the Permanent Joint Council set up five years ago, has outlived its usefulness.

The new council places Russia on an equal footing with the 19 members of Nato in meetings to discuss matters of common interest. It will meet for the first time outside Rome on 28 May; the American and Russian presidents will travel from their summit in Moscow to be there.

The Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, described the new arrangement as "the last rites, the funeral of the Cold War". He added: "Fifteen years ago, Russia was the enemy. Now Russia becomes our friend and ally. There could be no bigger change."