NATO tells Russia missile response a waste of money
NATO's chief urged Moscow on Wednesday to refrain from wasting money to counter a European missile shield as alliance foreign ministers gathered to calm Russian fears over the system.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Brussels for two days of talks with her 27 allies that will also touch on tensions with Pakistan after a NATO raid on the Afghan border last month killed 24 Pakistani troops.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the alliance still wants to reach a deal with Russia to cooperate on the shield after President Dmitry Medvedev threatened last month to deploy missiles to EU borders.
"It's a shared interest to protect our populations against a real missile threat," Rasmussen told reporters ahead of the talks, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov joining his counterparts on Thursday.
"It would definitely be a waste of valuable money if Russia started to invest heavily in countermeasures against an artificial enemy that doesn't exist," he said, adding that Russia should instead spend in job creation and modernising Russian society.
NATO and Russia have been at odds over the missile shield despite agreeing last year to explore ways to cooperate in the system, which Western official insist is aimed at warding off attacks from Iran or other "rogue states."
Moscow wants its former Cold War foe to provide a legally-binding document stating the system is not aimed against Russia, but NATO says it has made enough statements to that effect and that cooperation is the best solution.
NATO has also rejected Russia's demand to build a common system that shares sensitive data and allows Moscow to have a say in when to respond to a possible attack.
"They know too well what the situation is and unless they listen and hear what we are saying, I don't think we will be able to agree," Lavrov said during a visit to Lithuania.
Russia's top general, Nikolai Makarov, warned that Moscow was "being pushed" into a new arms race although it does not want one.
Medvedev last month announced that Russia was ready to deploy intermediate range Iskander missiles in the Kaliningrad exclave that borders EU members Poland and Lithuania.
Russia later also switched on a new radar warning system against incoming missiles in Kaliningrad and said it reserved the right to strike NATO's European shield components if its demands were not met.
NATO and the United States have sought to improve ties with Russia since President Barack Obama took office in 2009.
But Clinton irked Russia this week by voicing "serious concerns" about the country's parliamentary elections and calling for allegations of fraud and vote-rigging to be investigated.
"As we have seen in many places, and most recently in the Duma elections in Russia, elections that are neither free nor fair have the same effect," Clinton said in Lithuania on Tuesday.
The Russian foreign ministry described Clinton's comments as "unacceptable" while Medvedev said it was "none of their business" what Russia's political system looked like.
Despite lingering suspicions between the former Cold War foes, Russia has allowed the alliance to use its territory to send vital supplies to troops in Afghanistan.
The transit route through Russia has become all the more important since Pakistan shut down supply lines in anger at last month's deadly air strike on the Afghan border. NATO has launched an investigation into the raid.
"At the end of the day, we need a positive engagement of Pakistan if we are to insure the long term objective of peace and stability in Afghanistan and the region," Rasmussen said.
A NATO mission closer to home, Kosovo, will also be discussed as Rasmussen called on Serbs living in norther Kosovo to remove all barricades that have stoked violence at the contentious border with Serbia.
© 2011 AFP