( RIA Novosti ) - NATO enlargement will not affect cooperation with Russia, and missile defense plans in Europe are not aimed against the country, the Western alliance's secretary general said Wednesday.
"I see no contradiction whatsoever between the Alliance's 'Open Door' policy and its strategic goal of deepening cooperation with Russia," said Jaap de Hoop Scheffer in a written interview with RIA Novosti ahead of his upcoming visit to Moscow and St. Petersburg to attend a Russia-NATO Council ambassadorial session.
The NATO chief is expected to meet with President Vladimir Putin at the session, on June 26 in Moscow.
Tensions between Russia and NATO have been strained over the alliance's reluctance to ratify the re-drafted Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty (CFE) on arms reduction, and Washington's plans to deploy a missile defense shield in Central Europe. Moscow is also unhappy about NATO's expansion into its former sphere of influence.
However, de Hoop Scheffer gave reassurances on the alliance's enlargement plans, saying: "There is no automaticity to the process of NATO enlargement, and NATO is not actively recruiting new members - rather, we have used the interest of our neighbors in joining NATO in order to promote democratic and security sector reform efforts, and held aspirant states to the very highest standards."
He said that this approach, as well as the enlargement of the European Union, has contributed to a dramatic transformation process in Central and Eastern Europe, which "clearly has made Russia's western neighborhood more stable and secure."
The NATO chief signaled his backing for the bids of Russia's former Soviet allies, Georgia and Ukraine, to join the alliance, saying Moscow would benefit.
"A Georgian state that succeeded in achieving NATO standards would be a better neighbor for Russia. This would also be the case of Ukraine, which has worked very closely with the alliance over the past decade in furthering domestic reform efforts, which will benefit the country regardless of whether Kyiv ultimately seeks to follow through on seeking NATO membership," he said.
On the subject of the U.S. missile shield, he said: "The planned US system would not be built around Russia, nor directed against it. Obviously, the US plans have significant implications for the security of the entire Euro-Atlantic region, and should be discussed, both within NATO and in the NATO-Russia Council. This is exactly what we are doing."
Defense ministers of 26 NATO member states spoke out last week for continuing consultations with Russia on the U.S. missile defense plans.
Despite repeated U.S. assurances that the mooted elements of its missile shield in the Czech Republic and Poland would be directed against rogue states such as Iran and North Korea, the Russian president has said Moscow is convinced the plans "undermine the security of Russia and its citizens."