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Merkel and Rasmussen bank on Russia for missile defense shield

After talks in Berlin, NATO Secretary General Rasmussen said there was no alternative to a common European anti-missile shield. The organization hopes to get Russia on board for a common security structure.

NATO Secretary General Rasmussen and German Chancellor Angela Merkel

Rasmussen and Merkel reiterated support for the missile shield

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen have reiterated their support for a planned European anti-missile defense shield and have expressed hope that Russia will drop its objections to the plan.

Moscow has in the past been the major stumbling block for the missile defense shield. Russia sees the shield as being at least partly directed against its own military might whereas NATO and Washington say its sole purpose is to protect Europe from possible attack by rogue states such as Iran or North Korea.

At the NATO summit November, the Western alliance is hoping to reach agreement on a new strategic plan aimed at giving NATO a new focus two decades after the end of the Cold War.

In a surprise move, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev earlier this week agreed to attend next month's talks in Portugal. He indicated Moscow was open to dialogue about the shield.

Medvedev, Sarkozy, Merkel

Medvedev in talks with Sarkozy and Merkel agreed to attend the upcoming NATO summit

"The openness of Russia towards discussion over the missile defense system is a good signal," Merkel told reporters in Berlin on Friday. But she cautioned that cooperation with Russia would be slow in the making.

Euro-Atlantic security

Rasmussen added the threat of North Korean or Iranian missiles would affect Russian cities as well as central European ones.

"We simply can not afford becoming the hostage of such an attack," the NATO chief said, saying that only a common defense system - with the inclusion of Russia - could provide for a "true Euro-Atlantic security architecture."

"There is a broad scope of areas where we could develop a broad scope of practical cooperation with Russia," Rasmussen said, pointing not only to missile defense but also to Afghanistan and international counter-terrorism.

Both Merkel and Rasmussen however dismissed the idea of Russia becoming part of the Northern Atlantic Treaty Organization any time soon.

"Things have developed well in the last year, but I don't think we should ask too much of one another," the German chancellor said.

Angela Merkel

Merkel cautioned that cooperation with Russia would be slow in the making

Rasmussen pointed out that Russia had made it clear that joining NATO was not an option for Moscow and that a strategic partnership was the only realistic option.

"I've taken note of some statements from Moscow that Russia would never apply for NATO membership, because it was able to take care of security matters on its own," the NATO chief said.

"So, let's rather pursue what I consider a realistic future, namely a true strategic partnership between NATO and Russia."

Merkel backs French nuclear arsenal

German Chancellor Merkel also touched on Berlin's shifting position on nuclear defense. She said NATO members should retain nuclear capabilities as long as other, potentially hostile, countries still had nuclear weapons.

Previously, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle had expressed hopes that the missile shield would allow for a nuclear powers to cut their arsenals.

Germany and France had been at odds over the issue earlier this week when French President Nicolas Sarkozy blatantly dismissed the idea that France would accept any foreign intervention in its nuclear arms policy.

Nuclear explosion

There still is need for nuclear deterrent, Merkel said

Paris insists on keeping its own nuclear weapons. Merkel’s statements after the talks with Rasmussen on Friday seemed to be aimed directly at concerns of Western nuclear powers such as France that the defense shield could pressure them into reducing their arsenals.

Reducing nuclear weapons needed to be based on the principle of reciprocity, Merkel said. "As long as there are nuclear weapons in the world, we need to have these capabilities." Germany itself does not have any nuclear weapons, but has US weapons stationed on its territory.

NATO as an international forum on security

Rasmussen however called for a general broadening of NATO's role, making it more of a political organization as opposed to having a solely military agenda.

"NATO has to become a forum for consultation on international security," he said. Cooperation with other regions of the world ought to be fostered, he added. Countries like China, India and Pakistan should work in close dialogue with NATO.

Such a "cooperative approach" was not intended to be directed against any third countries but would rather work along the lines of United Nations policies, Rasmussen said.

Author: Andreas Illmer (dpa, apn)
Editor: Chuck Penfold

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