LONDON - While Russia is not about to join NATO, there is now a chance to create a close partnership and end decades of enmity and distrust, the head of the Western alliance said Sunday.
NATO Secretary-general Lord Robertson said Russian President Vladimir Putin wants better relations with the alliance in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.
But he said Russia won't apply to join NATO.
" We've now got an historic opportunity and I think that many of the leaders of NATO believe that this is the time to grasp that opportunity and push it forward," Robertson told BBC television.
Robertson visited Moscow last month to discuss ways to improve relations between the Cold War foes. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, ties were strained by NATO's eastward expansion and its airstrikes in Yugoslavia in 1999.
Russia has emerged as a key supporter of the U.S.-led operation in Afghanistan. But Moscow is dissatisfied with its ties to NATO, offended that the alliance does not treat it as an equal.
Robertson said that Putin wants to change Russian attitudes to NATO. "We're moving at the moment quite fast," he said.
Pressed on whether Russia could ever join NATO, Robertson said Moscow does not want to apply to join the alliance.
"I can't tell what's going to happen in the long-term future. The last 10 years would have been very difficult to predict 10 years ago. All I'm saying at the moment is that Russia does not intend to apply for membership, but there is this opportunity for much closer and deeper cooperation," he said.
Russian officials have complained of being informed of key alliance decisions after the fact.