NATO summit could be 'milestone' in Russia ties: Merkel

19th November 2010, Comments 0 comments

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she hoped a summit of NATO leaders starting on Friday could prove to be a "milestone" in the alliance's relations with Russia.

The idea of a joint missile defence shield with Russia is "an essential point," Merkel said at a joint press conference with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte before they set off to the Lisbon summit.

"I would like Russia to be involved, insofar as this is possible. It could be a... new phase of cooperation between NATO and Russia and it is of course a good sign that the Russian president is coming to Lisbon," she added.

"For this reason, I am looking forward to the discussions in Lisbon and think it could be a milestone in NATO's development and in its relations with Russia," the chancellor said.

Leaders from the military alliance meet in Lisbon on Friday and Saturday with the missile shield and Afghanistan topping the agenda.

Missile defence has been a source of irritation in relations between Russia and the West since the administration of former US president George W. Bush proposed putting facilities in Poland and the Czech Republic.

His successor Barack Obama scrapped that plan but NATO remains committed to improving its defences against what it says is the risk of an attack from a "rogue state" such as Iran.

In a bid to overcome mutual suspicions, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has championed an idea to bring Russia into the initiative.

Moscow however appears to be not yet fully convinced of the alliance's intentions.

President Dmitry Medvedev has given the idea a cautious welcome, saying it required further study, and officials have warned against expecting a major breakthrough on the plan in Lisbon.

© 2010 AFP

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