NATO eyes 'fresh start' with Russia
NATO will launch a "fresh start" with Russia this week with a deal to step up collaboration on Afghanistan and efforts to end suspicion over a European missile shield, the alliance's chief said Monday.
NATO leaders meeting in Lisbon on Friday and Saturday are expected to endorse a plan to mount a missile shield that will defend Europe from ballistic missiles and invite Russia to join the system.
At a separate summit in the Portuguese capital, NATO and Russia are also expected to reach an agreement on their first ever joint review of common security threats and deepen their cooperation on Afghanistan.
"I think we are witnessing a fresh start in the relationship between NATO and Russia and maybe I could go further and say a fresh start in the relationship between Russia and the West," Anders Fogh Rasmussen told a news conference.
"I think this is of huge strategic importance," he said.
The Western military alliance has made intense efforts to convince Russia that the system was not aimed against the former Soviet power but rather to counter threats from other countries armed with ballistic missiles.
Russia was deeply concerned about a previous US plan to install anti-missile systems in eastern Europe, but NATO wants to ease Russian concerns by inviting Moscow to join a new project.
"We will decide at the NATO-Russia summit in Lisbon to initiate a joint analysis as to how missile defence cooperation could be implemented," Rasmussen said.
"Cooperation would clearly demonstrate that this system is not directed against Russia," he said.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has given a cautious welcome to the idea of joining the missile shield but said Moscow needed to hear more details.
Russia has cooperated with NATO on Afghanistan by allowing alliance supplies to transit through its territory and providing counter-narcotics training to Afghan officials outside Moscow.
NATO, which has faced security threats in its transit routes through Pakistan, wants Russia to allow equipment in and out of Afghanistan and expand the list of permitted goods to include armoured vehicles.
Russia has allowed a one-way transit of non-lethal NATO supplies by train to Afghanistan. Weapons would still not be permitted under a new deal, NATO officials said.
Russia is also considering opening a second training centre that would be open to more countries, including Pakistan, NATO officials said.
In addition, NATO wants Moscow to provide around 20 Mi-17 helicopters, spare parts and pilot training to Afghanistan.
The NATO-Russia summit on Saturday will mark the highest-level meeting between the two sides since the war between Russia and the pro-Western former Soviet state of Georgia in August 2008 severely strained relations.
After meeting on the sidelines of a Pacific Rim summit in Japan on Sunday, US President Barack Obama and Medvedev cheered what they described as improving ties between Moscow and NATO.
"What we have seen currently in our interactions with the Russians -- pretty much at every level -- is a real shift in tone in the last four to six weeks," said a senior US official.
© 2010 AFP