NATO invites Russia to link up on missile defences
NATO invited Russia to start talks on linking up the former Cold War rivals' antiballistic-missile systems on Saturday as alliance leaders met Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in Lisbon, dpa reported.
NATO leaders on Friday agreed to set up an alliance-wide missile screen based on linking long-range US interceptor rockets with shorter-range European ones. Saturday's invitation is intended to convince Moscow that the plan does not target Russia.
NATO states its "readiness to invite Russia to explore jointly the potential of linking current and planned missile defence systems at an appropriate time in mutually-beneficial ways," read a NATO summit statement approved immediately before the Russian meeting.
Russia and the US already have well-developed anti-missile systems, while some European states also have them. NATO's plan is to create a computer programme which would link all the NATO systems together, and allow them to share early-warning data with Russia.
"It's not about inviting into decision-making or into the architecture ... It's about exchange of information, it's about cooperation, it's a new chance for Russia to be more accepted and trusted from a security point of view," Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite said, calling it a "very good proposal."
Ahead of the meeting, German Chancellor Angela Merkel praised the idea of launching talks on missile-defence cooperation, saying that the Lisbon summit could be a "milestone" in NATO-Russia relations.
If Medvedev accepts the decision, it would pave the way for Russia and NATO to start technical talks on possible ways to link the various parts of their systems together.
"There are many issues still to address. But the important point is: for the first time NATO nations and Russia will discuss cooperating to protect Europe's territory and populations," NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said.
However, officials warned that it was by no means clear whether the talks would lead to an agreement to link the systems, with both sides still wary of too sudden a rapprochement.
As a separate confidence-building measure, Rasmussen, who chaired the meeting, said that NATO and Russia had already agreed to expand the transit rights which Russia allows NATO non-lethal cargoes going into Afghanistan, so that the alliance could both take more types of goods into the country and bring them back to Europe again. d