NATO and Russia failed to narrow differences on missile defence cooperation, but the head of the Western military alliance said he was optimistic they could agree a deal by next May.
NATO and Russia agreed at a summit in Lisbon in November to cooperate on missile defence, but the alliance has given a cold shoulder to Moscow’s proposal of a “sectoral” system dividing the continent into Russian and NATO zones of responsibility.
NATO has also resisted Moscow’s call for binding guarantees that a European missile shield would not weaken Russia’s nuclear arsenal, Reuters reports.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said after talks between NATO defence ministers and their Russian counterpart Anatoly Serdyukov he “understood” the Russian request for reassurances.
But he added: “The best assurance you can ever get is to engage in a sincere and close cooperation in missile defence.”
“In that very spirit of positive cooperation we should develop a missile defence architecture based on two independent systems but with one common purpose,” he said, repeating NATO’s vision for the project, before adding:
“Right from the outset we have made clear we are not ready to accept the sectoral approach.”
Russia’s Interfax news agency quoted Serdyukov as saying that the Russian and NATO positions were still far apart.
“The differences are fundamental. In the first place we are speaking of guarantees that would prevent the possibility of using European missile defence for intercepting Russian ICBMs,” Serdyukov told reporters after the meeting.
“We are also failing to formulate the ultimate objective of cooperation, to define the outline and architecture of the missile defence system,” he said.
Rasmussen nevertheless said he was confident the differences could be narrowed by a NATO summit in the United States in May.
“We took a very important decision in Lisbon … you can’t expect us to reach an agreement right from the beginning of that process. The Russians have their positions and their interests and we have our positions and our interests and now the political challenge is to build a bridge.” “We still have some time … I have a summit in May next year as my time horizon. I would expect us to make steady progress. It will be hard work but I am still optimistic. I think at the end of the day we can reach a solution.”
Russia has stepped up criticism of President Barack Obama’s scaled-back plan for gradual deployment of shorter-range interceptor missiles, based on land and sea, that will be the backbone of the NATO defence system.
The United States says the shield is meant to protect against the developing threat of a missile attack by Iran, but Russia says it could upset the balance of power between the Cold War foes if interceptors capable of shooting down Russian nuclear missiles are deployed.
NATO and Russia have nevertheless stepped up other cooperation since a freeze in ties after Russia’s 2008 intervention in Georgia. This has included cooperation in counter-terrorism and Russian help for NATO’s mission in Afghanistan.