NATO's top diplomat was quoted on Wednesday as saying the alliance believed it was close to a new start in ties with Russia, including greater cooperation over the Afghan war and collaboration on a missile defence system.Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in an interview with the Financial Times that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's attendance at NATO's annual summit next month would boost relations, strained by Moscow's 2008 invasion of Georgia."The summit will represent a new start in the relationship between NATO and Russia," said Rasmussen."It will be a very substantive NATO-Russia summit and definitely the most important event for cooperation since the Rome summit of 2002 when we established the NATO-Russia council. "Rasmussen said the Lisbon summit could see NATO and Russia deepening cooperation on Afghanistan.The Financial Times quoted NATO officials as saying the United States and Russia were working on a package that could see Moscow providing more than 20 helicopters to Afghan forces.It said NATO was also exploring whether Russia would allow the alliance to ship more goods, including weapons, across its territory to NATO forces in Afghanistan. Rasmussen said one of the central issues at the summit would be whether NATO and Russia could begin cooperating on the creation of a missile defence shield.Western countries have pressed for a shield as protection from states like Iran, but early plans by Washington were rejected by Russia as a threat to its own nuclear arsenal.The Financial Times said Rasmussen believed Moscow's objections had softened and that the NATO-wide missile defence system could one day link up to Russian radars to give all participating countries better protection."I would expect a decision on missile cooperation to be one of the most important outcomes of the NATO-Russia summit," he said."Cooperation between Russia and NATO on missile defence will provide us with a very strong framework to develop a true Euro-Atlantic security architecture with one security roof."