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Russia denies punishing Turkey

world Updated: Sep 02, 2008 19:57 IST

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Russia's foreign minister insisted Tuesday that strict new import measures were not aimed at punishing NATO-member Turkey for allowing US warships to steam through its waters to deliver aid to Georgia.

Sergey Lavrov said Turkey was not being "singled out" for stringent checks at border checkpoints. Turkish officials say hundreds of trucks taking exports to Russia have been held up since Russian authorities began closely scrutinizing consignments about a month ago.

"This is not an action directed against Turkey. Turkey is not being singled out," said Lavrov at a joint news conference here with his Turkish counterpart, Ali Babacan. "There can be no politics involved in trade."

Two US ships laden with humanitarian aid for Georgia last month passed through the Turkish straits, connecting the Mediterranean to the Black Sea.

One of them, the guided-missile destroyer USS McFaul, sailed back through the straits toward the Mediterranean late Monday, the Anatolia news agency reported.

Russia suggested Monday that US ships that took humanitarian aid to Georgia's Black Sea coast could also have delivered weapons. Turkey, a NATO member and close US ally, has helped train and equip Georgia's military, which lost a brief war with Russia last month over the separatist region of South Ossetia.

The talks between Lavrov and Babacan came after Turkey suggested it would retaliate with its own stricter trade rules but drew back from the threat Monday, saying it wanted to resolve the dispute through talks. Russia is Turkey's top trading partner and supplier of two-thirds of its natural gas.

Lavrov said the stricter border controls were imposed because unspecified countries breached customs regulations. He said the two countries were trying to solve the dispute.

Lavrov also Tuesday backed plans for a group of regional nations to try to overcome the Georgia crisis and stabilize the Caucasus region.

The Turkish-proposed group would include Turkey and four nearby Caucasus nations: Russia, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia. "The countries of the region should solve their own problems. Other countries should be supportive, but not impose their own prescriptions," Lavrov said.

Georgia said it would only join the group after Russian forces completely pulled out of the country after last month's war. "Turkey will continue its efforts in solving problems through peaceful means and dialogue, under any condition," Babacan said.