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NATO chief urges Russia’s inclusion under security ‘tent’

NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen warned Friday against leaving Russia “outside the tent looking in” as the Atlantic Alliance goes ahead with plans to deploy a missile defence system in Europe.

“If we manage to create an inclusive missile defence system, it can reinforce a virtuous circle,” he said in a speech in Rome.

“If Russia and other countries feel like they are inside the tent with the rest of us, rather than outside the tent looking in, it will build trust,” he told military and business leaders at the Aspen Institute’s Italian branch.

Anti-missile defence systems already in place within the NATO alliance fall under a US shield that has missile interceptors in the United States, Greenland and Britain.

Plans under the previous US administration for it to be extended into eastern Europe, notably with installations in Poland and the Czech Republic, drew strong protests from Moscow. It feared the project could upset the conventional and nuclear balance to its own detriment.

But President Barack Obama last year scrapped the plan in favour of a “phased, adaptive approach” involving sea- and land-based missile interceptors and sensors based partly on a reassessment of the threat from Iran.

Tehran “already has missiles that can hit NATO territory and Russia too (and) is expanding their range,” Rasmussen noted.

He added that the new “more flexible” approach would cost relatively little.

“To expand a system to protect all our nations” can be done with a “small investment” of some 200 million euros (275 million dollars) over 20 years, Rasmussen said.

“How can we afford not to?” he added.

The former Danish prime minister, who has championed improved relations with Moscow since he took the helm of NATO in August 2009, announced Thursday that NATO had invited Russia to its Lisbon summit in November.

“We disagree (with Russia) every once in a while, and fundamentally on some issues, such as over Georgia,” Rasmussen conceded.

But he added: “We’ve learned not to let that overshadow the importance and the potential of this relationship, to make us all safer.”

At the November 19-20 NATO summit, Rasmussen said the 28-nation alliance should “invite Russia to cooperate, linking a (missile defence) system of ours with capabilities of theirs.”

He added: “Unless we make a clear offer to Russia, we would risk that it will feel, rightly or wrongly, kept out of the tent.”

The NATO-Russia Council was created in 2002 as a forum for the two former Cold War foes to hold a dialogue on security issues.

“The record of the past eight years shows how far we’ve come,” Rasmussen said. “We have had troops in the field together to help stabilise the Balkans,” he noted, adding that “Russia is supporting our operations in Afghanistan.”

NATO and Russia also cooperated against common threats such as terrorism, the illicit drug trade and piracy, he said.

However relations came under strain after the Russia-Georgia war in August 2008, leading to a freeze in ties that began to thaw last year.

Rasmussen told a sceptical questioner after the speech: “I fully accept that based on experience and history some scepticism may be justified, but I don’t think the past should paralyse our efforts to build a better future.”