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Europe

NATO Summit Ends on Positive Note, Fails to Heal Rifts

A feared showdown on Friday between NATO and Russia did not materialize. Tensions between the alliance and Russia were eased somewhat, although differences of opinion still remain.

US President Bush and Secretary of State Rice laugh with Germany's Merkel

US President Bush and Secretary of State Rice laugh with Germany's Merkel

It was NATO's biggest ever summit, held in an correspondingly huge venue -- Bucharest's huge Palace of the Parliament. And while issues like NATO expansion and a US missile defense shield still divided the alliance and Russia, Moscow and the western pact are still on friendly terms and progress was made in several key areas.

NATO countries agreed to strengthen their defenses against cyber-attacks, launched a new television channel and smoothed over differences over the mission in Afghanistan with a "vision statement."

Russian President Vladimir Putin made his final appearance at a NATO summit as president -- he steps down next month -- and NATO leaders had praise for the positive mood after a 90-minute meeting on Friday with the Russian leader. While no breakthroughs were forthcoming on disputes ranging from Kosovo to a planned US missile shield in eastern Europe, the meeting did warm relations that had become distinctly chilly.

Putin did criticize the Western military pact for promising Georgia and Ukraine eventual membership, although NATO did not go so far as to put former Soviet states Georgia and Ukraine on a definite track for membership by granting them so-called Membership Action Plans.

Positive spin

Still, both sides chose to put the accent on the positive.

"The discussion was frank and open, there was no hiding of views but the spirit was positive," NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told reporters after the meeting.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel also played down any tension between Russia and the defense alliance.

Putin addresses the media on the third day of the NATO summit

Putin addresses the media on the third day of the NATO summit

"NATO is not anti-anyone, especially not anti-Russia," she said after the meeting with Putin. She said Russia was a partner, calling for a closer relationship and more frequent meetings between NATO leaders and Russia's president.

Merkel emerged from the meeting with an even stronger reputation as a skilled diplomat. According to the dpa news agency, several of her colleagues in Bucharest noted her impressive negotiating prowess.

Frank words

According to a source from the Russian delegation who was at the Friday meeting, Putin lashed out at some NATO countries for "demonizing" Moscow and failing to reward Russia for helping end the Cold War.

"Some went as far as total demonization of Russia and can't get away from this even now. Some began to talk about imperial ambitions," Putin told NATO leaders at the summit, the source said, who asked not to be named.

US President George W. Bush talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel

US President Bush talks with Germany's Angela Merkel

Putin said that Russia had peacefully withdrawn from eastern Europe after the Soviet collapse and "of course expected something in return. But this didn't come."

Putin also challenged American policy toward Iran and said that the Islamic republic, instead of being threatened, should be helped to emerge from isolation.

"No one can seriously think that Iran would dare attack the United States," the source quoted Putin as telling leaders. "Instead of pushing Iran into a corner, it would be far more sensible to think together how to help Iran become more predictable and transparent."

Cyber Defense

In an attempt to meet new types of warfare, NATO acknowledged the growing threat from cyber-attacks and committed themselves to "strengthening key alliance information systems" and to rush to one another's defense in case of a assault conducted by computer.

Rumänien NATO Gipfel in Bukarest Wladimir Putin Tisch

In April 2007, Estonia's computer servers were hit by a massive, coordinated attack that almost crippled the Baltic country's banks and government services. Estonia's firewalls successfully withstood the assault, which was blamed on Russia hackers.

Over the new few months, NATO allies and Estonia are to set up a Cyber Defense Center of Excellence in Tallinn. NATO officials say that the alliance has a duty to protect sensitive targets such as financial and communication centers.

"If one of our allies comes under attack, we need to be prepared," one NATO official told the dpa news agency.

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