Wednesday, December 03, 2008

NATO backs US missile shield over Russian protest

By PAUL AMES, Associated Press Writer Wednesday, December 3, 2008 BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) -- NATO foreign ministers on Wednesday affirmed their support for U.S. plans to install anti-missile defenses in Europe despite Russia's strong opposition. The ministers said the planned U.S. defenses in Poland and the Czech Republic will make a "substantial contribution" to protecting allies from the threat of long-range ballistic missiles. Russia has vehemently opposed the deployment, threatening to respond by placing short-range missiles in its westernmost region, Kaliningrad, which borders Poland. The U.S. insists the defenses are aimed at potential attack from Iran and pose no threat to Russia's ballistic arsenal. All 26 NATO allies signed the statement backing the deployment of interceptor missiles in Poland and an advanced radar station in the Czech Republic. Doubts about allied support for the plan were raised last month when French President Nicolas Sarkozy said the missile defenses would "bring nothing to security ... it would complicate things, and would make them move backward." Sarkozy's statement at a meeting in France with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev appeared to contradict his early support for the missile plans at a NATO summit in April. But in Washington a few days later, the French leader changed tack again, saying that the anti-missile shield could "complement" Western defenses against a threat from Iran. The NATO ministers agreed Tuesday to gradually resume contacts with Moscow, which were frozen after Russian troops poured into Georgia in August. However, they were critical of Moscow's actions and insisted the resumption of low-level talks would not mean a return to business as usual for the NATO-Russia Council. Faced with opposition from Russia, the NATO ministers backed away from establishing a plan for Ukraine and George to move toward entry into the Western military alliance for the former-Soviet nations. However, the ministers offered to step up military and political cooperation to help them achieve their goal of eventual membership. Russia's ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, welcomed NATO's offer to resume talks, but dismissed the alliance plan to prepare Ukraine and Georgia for membership as an attempt to return to Cold-War bloc-building that made "no political sense." The European Union separately proposed building new economic and political ties with the former Soviet states of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. Several EU nations have been lobbying for such a program to counter Russia's increasingly assertive policy toward its neighbors, and to develop alternative routes for oil and gas pipelines to reduce Europe's energy dependence on Russia. In a sign of Moscow's more assertive foreign policy, the Russian Navy said one of its warships would sail through the Panama Canal for the first time since World War II. The destroyer Admiral Chabanenko will arrive Friday in Panama for a six-day visit following maneuvers with Venezuelan ships, said Navy spokesman Capt. Igor Dygalo in Moscow. The exercises with Venezuela were the first such deployment to the Western Hemisphere since the Cold War.

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