Merkel shifts stance to say NATO must keep nuclear defence

Merkel shifts stance to say NATO must keep nuclear defence

Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday backed NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen's calls for NATO members to retain nuclear capacities as long as other countries had nuclear weapons, DPA reported.

The chancellor's comments represented a shift in Germany's stance on disarmament, after pushing for a reduction of nuclear weapons in Europe. The previous argument was that a new missile shield would allow NATO members to cut their arsenals.

"As long as there are nuclear weapons in the world, we need to have these capabilities, as NATO says," Merkel told journalists after talks with Rasmussen in Berlin. Aims to reduce nuclear weapons needed to be based on the principle of reciprocity, the chancellor added.

At a NATO meeting earlier this month, France and Germany were at odds over nuclear disarmament, as France insisted on keeping its own nuclear weapons and rejected any foreign intervention in its policy.

At the time, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said that arms control and disarmament must be "the trademarks of our political alliance." Germany does not own any nuclear weapons.

Rasmussen, who has backed the French position, expressed confidence on Friday that NATO members would succeed in agreeing to a new security concept at next month's summit in Lisbon.

"I believe that it will include missile defence for Europe and I am quite confident that we will strike the right balance in the strategic concept," Rasmussen said.

The leaders welcomed the fact that Russia would be present at the Lisbon summit, even if the country has not agreed to join NATO's missile defence structure.

"The openness of the country towards discussions over the missile defence system (is) a good signal," Merkel said.

Rasmussen said relations with Russia had improved substantially in the past year.

"There is a broad scope of areas where we could develop a broad scope of practical cooperation with Russia," Rasmussen said, citing Afghanistan, missile defence and counter-terrorism as examples.

At the same time Merkel said it was premature to talk of integrating Russia into NATO.

"Things have developed well in the last year, but I don't think we should ask too much of one another, but rather (enjoy) a mutual sense of achievement," Merkel said.

The leaders also discussed NATO's operation in Afghanistan.

"With our operations now pushing directly into Taliban heartland the insurgency is under pressure like never before in Afghanistan," Rasmussen said, adding that NATO was on target to begin handing over security responsibilities to the Afghans early next year.

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