( AP ) - BRUSSELS, Belgium - NATO ministers are expected Thursday to consider how to integrate planned U.S. anti-missile bases into the alliance's defenses and seek clarification of Russia's suggested use of a radar base in Azerbaijan as part of the missile shield.
The defense ministers will also seek to boost training for the Afghan military and examine how to reduce the rising toll of civilian casualties in Afghanistan.
Allied diplomats said the ministers would aim to start planning that would lead to a decision next year for the alliance to develop its own anti-missile defenses. These would be "bolted on" to the U.S. shield to provide cover for all NATO nations from short- and long-range attacks.
The U.S. says its proposal to install 10 anti-missile interceptors in Poland and a radar unit in the Czech Republic would protect most of Europe from the threat of long- range attack from Iran or elsewhere in the Middle East. But it would leave Turkey, Greece and parts of the Balkans exposed.
The proposed NATO short-range defenses would aim to fill the gap.
Russia has reacted furiously to the U.S. plans, threatening to retaliate by pulling out of a key arms control treaty and point warheads at Europe for the first time since the Cold War. However, at the G-8 summit last week, President Vladimir Putin seemed to take a more open approach, suggesting Russia could cooperate with the West on an anti-missile radar base in Azerbaijan.
"It is very welcome that President Putin and the Russian Federation seem to be moving on from the rhetoric of confrontation to the rhetoric of cooperation," John Colston, NATO's assistant secretary general for defense policy, said ahead of Thursday's meeting.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Wednesday "there's a basis for having some good conversations" during the missile defense talks.
"I will certainly underscore our interest in exploring with them President Putin's proposal with respect to radar in Azerbaijan," Gates said during a stop in Germany. He added he was "very pleased that President Putin acknowledged that there is merit to missile defense, that Iran does represent a problem that needs to be dealt with in terms of potential missile defense."
NATO ministers will seek more details of the Russian proposal from their Russian counterpart, Anatoly Serdyukov. But Colston said complex technical issues meant it was too early to say if the Azerbaijani radar could effectively replace or supplement planned U.S. installations in central Europe.
"The trouble with missile defense is that it is rocket science," he told reporters.
The NATO ministers are due to meet their Afghan counterpart on the second day of talks Friday.
Gates is expected to press allies to step up training efforts for Afghan security forces. The U.S. wants to double the approximately 20 teams of NATO training experts embedded with Afghan fighting units.
Allies are likely to raise concerns about the growing number of civilian casualties killed in incidents involving international troops in Afghanistan.