France: NATO could give Russia missile defence guarantees
Brussels and NATO could lay to rest Kremlin fears about a planned European missile defence system by giving guarantees it was not aimed at Russia, a senior French government official said Wednesday.
"I hope ... we can give Russia the guarantees," said French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe. "It is not directed against Russia, because Russia has long been our partner."
Juppe's comments made at a press conference in the Russian capital Moscow marked a slight edging away from previous NATO official declarations on a missile defence system that has raised Kremlin hackles, DPA reported.
The system proposes deploying interceptor missiles and detection radar to Poland and the Czech Republic to protect NATO from a possible missile fired from the Middle East.
Russian strategists have called the plan dangerously destabilizing because the system once operational would, they say, allow NATO to shoot down Russian missiles - giving Brussels a powerful advantage in a confrontation with Moscow.
Kremlin officials have threatened to deploy new weapons, including nuclear devices, to NATO's border as early as 2012 in retaliation.
Russia has said "reliable guarantees" from Brussels that the NATO system could not shoot down Russian missiles would head off an impending arms race. But NATO officials in the past have avoided language suggesting Russia should receive a formal guarantee.
"We (the French government) will do everything we can to work out the question of the guarantees," Juppe said, according to Interfax.
The defence and foreign ministers of Russia and France in a series of Wednesday conferences also discussed the situation in Libya and Syria, Iran's nuclear programme, Afghanistan, and the Israeli-Palestinian standoff, Interfax reported.
Russian Defence Minister Anatoly Serdiukov and French Defence Minister Gerard Longuet discussed Russo-French military cooperation and bilateral arms transfers in a separate meeting, the report said.
Russia in June signed a contract to buy four French helicopter carriers from France for a reported 1.52 billion dollars. It was the Kremlin's biggest foreign arms purchase in two decades.
A contract setting out terms for the construction of two of the vessels in a Russian shipyard should be signed "by the end of the year," Serdiukov said.
The bilateral Russian-French Security Cooperation Council was the host of the meetings. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev was present at the talks, a Kremlin statement said.