NATO, Russia Still at Odds over Missile Shield in Europe
NATO Foreign Ministers have failed to make headway on talks with Russia over the military alliance's planned European missile defense system.
Moscow has insisted on a say in the project and the USA has argued Russia has no right to a veto during Thursday's meeting of the NATO-Russia Council in Brussels following the annual NATO Foreign Ministers' ministerial.
"On missile defense, we don't agree yet," NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen flatly told reporters after a meeting between the 28 ministers and their Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, as cited by DPA.
"But we all agree that it is important to keep on trying, to keep on talking, to keep on listening. If we can reach agreement on this issue, it will take our relationship to the next level ... We are committed to finding a way forward," he added.
The NATO shield is expected to become partially operational in time for the alliance's May 2012 summit in Chicago, for which Rasmussen hopes to have an "agreement on a political framework" with Russia in place.
The new system, which was originally a purely American project under the Bush Administration but was later offered to the entire NATO under the Obama Administration, is intended to protect member states from missile threats from the Middle East.
"It is not about Russia. It is frankly about Iran and other state or non-state actors who are seeking to develop threatening missile technology," US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton noted.
But Moscow wants guarantees that it will not be targeted, since the system could reach part of its territory.
One Russian official described it Thursday as an "anaconda" encircling his country. It also wants insight into the system's planning and operation, DPA points out.
"Apart from general remarks about trust and not targeting systems against each other, we need legally binding arrangements," Lavrov said following the Brussels meeting. "Because good intentions come and pass, while military capabilities stay."
He warned that Russia is ready to "respond adequately at every stage of implementation" if its concerns are not met. But Clinton said it was unreasonable for Moscow to expect a veto on the project.
"No ally within NATO is going to give any other country outside the alliance a veto over whether NATO protects itself by building a missile defence system against the threats that we perceive are the most salient. We will continue to press forward on missile defence," she stated.
The aggressive rhetoric has raised concerns that Moscow may resort to using other NATO interests - most notably Russia's supply routes to Afghanistan - as a bargaining chip.
"They can't tell us no for the missile shield project and demand that we say yes for the other projects," Russia's NATO ambassador, Dmitry Rogozin, complained.
President Dmitry Medvedev also stepped up the pressure last month when he ordered army commanders to prepare to deploy ballistic missiles to an enclave next to Lithuania and Poland to counter the NATO shield - further frustrating alliance officials.
"We have explained through multiple channels that our planned system will not and cannot threaten Russia's strategic deterrent. It is certainly not a cause for military countermeasures," noted the US State Secretary.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle did concede that there had been "mistakes" made at the start of the debate over the missile shield, with Russia being "involved too little in the discussions." But he said that had now been resolved.
"There exists practical cooperation between the alliance and Russia, and that should not be lost sight of, even with a charged atmosphere. There will only be security on our continent with Russia, not against Russia ... Nobody should be closing doors," stated Westerwelle.
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