NATO's Rasmussen Makes Warm Overture To Russia
(RFE/RL) -- One day after the United States scrapped a missile-defense plan that had raised Moscow's objections, the head of the NATO military alliance has called for a new partnership with Russia.
Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, speaking in Brussels, said the alliance is ready for "practical cooperation" with Moscow on a number of global defense issues.
"I would like to see NATO and Russia agree to carry out a joint review of the new 21st-century security challenges to serve as a firm basis for our future cooperation," he said.
Rasmussen's comments come a year after the Russia-Georgia war sent a deep chill through NATO's relations with Moscow.
Ties had slowly improved since then. But Rasmussen's remarks, coming less than two months after the former Danish prime minister assumed the NATO post, are the strongest signal yet the alliance is looking to mimic the U.S. "reset" its own relations with Russia.
Washington appeared to take a step forward on its own reset policy on September 17, when President Barack Obama announced the United States was scrapping plans for a missile-defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic that has raised hackles in Moscow.
Obama and U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates put forward an alternate proposal to protect the U.S. and its European allies against missile attacks from Iran, including land-based defenses in Europe.
But that did not prevent Russian leaders Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin from welcoming the withdrawal from the original plan. Putin, speaking on September 18 in Sochi, called Obama's move "correct and brave."
In Brussels, Rasmussen appeared eager to capitalize on the goodwill, proposing the United States, Russia, and NATO cooperate on missile defense.
Rasmussen acknowledged "fundamental" disagreements remain between NATO and Russia -- most notably the efforts by Ukraine and Georgia to join the alliance.
But he also said that NATO's "open-door" policy is not directed against Moscow, and he urged Russia to collaborate with the alliance on issues where there is accord.
"I believe, of all of NATO's relationships with partner countries, that none is so much burdened by misperceptions, mistrust, and diverting political agendas," he said.
In addition to missile defense, Rasmussen said the sides could find common purpose in outlining a new security strategy for Europe. The NATO chief said the alliance would address Medvedev's ideas, presented earlier this year, on a new Euro-Atlantic security arrangement.
He also urged Moscow to support the United States and other Western countries in persuading Iran to abandon its uranium-enrichment activities that the West says is intended for a nuclear weapons program.
Moscow has long resisted Western calls for greater pressure on Tehran. Many saw the U.S. decision to abandon the Czech and Polish missile defense plans as an attempt to coax concessions from Moscow on Iran.
Dmitry Rogozin, Russia's envoy to NATO, welcomed Rasmussen's speech as "very positive and very constructive."
He also said that Russia no longer had a need to carry through on its threat to deploy medium-range missiles in Kaliningrad in response to the U.S. missile-defense plan.
"If we have no radars and no missiles in the Czech Republic and Poland, we don't need to find some response," he said.
Copyright (c) 2009. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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